May 29, 2009

Modern wing guides us through Twombly's Natural World

It’s no surprise that an artist like Cy Twombly, who has been creating progressive mixed-media work since the ’50s, would be the first person featured in the Modern Wing’s special exhibition space in the Abbott Galleries. Cy Twombly: The Natural World displays the artist’s contemporary paintings and sculptures from between 2000 and 2007. The exhibition divulges just enough context to make the works available to a wider audience but also lets them speak for themselves, giving each viewer his or her own understanding of Twombly’s Natural World.

Composed of four separate rooms, the exhibition space is divided between distinct series of paintings. Each room has a placard detailing the inspiration behind the series, occasionally providing a bit of analysis. Frankly, this information comes in handy. While Twombly’s sculptures and large-scale paintings are instantly stirring, the ideas behind them are not so easily understood. With this information in mind, massive, dripping splotches of bright paint suddenly resemble wildflowers and white calligraphic loops set against a background of dark green subtly evoke images of forests and clouds.

Twombly’s fascination with nature during the later stages of his career is immediately apparent as the overarching theme of the exhibition. But it is also difficult to ignore his strange arsenal of materials, including wood, house paint, and crayons. “Untitled, Lexington,” one of the more distinctive pieces in the exhibit, is a sculpture of a bouquet composed of gauze and paper towels doused in paint. The effect is both charming and slightly unsettling—the wads can double as both flowers and blood-soaked bandages. Twombly’s use of diverse media lends itself to a sort of foreboding and primalness that transforms the theme of the exhibition into something a bit more complex. The incorporation of writing into Twombly’s paintings—one of his trademarks—also appears in Natural World. However, the presence of writing is not as prominent as in his earlier works. This style is featured in “Peony Blossom Paintings,” each of which has a small scribbling of a Japanese samurai poem. With its cursive script, the “Notes from Salalah” series hearkens back to the artist’s earlier “blackboard paintings,” yet has been adapted to Twombly’s contemporary concerns.

The information given on the placards and the sheer variety of works displayed presents a rather comprehensive survey of Twombly’s recent art along with a history of the artist himself. However, it is important to note how little text outside of the paintings appears in the exhibition. Usually, there is only the placard accompanying each series in addition to smaller placards for each piece. Natural World acknowledges the necessary context needed to appreciate Twombly’s art, but never bogs it down. The exhibit gives the viewer enough information to make his or her own conclusions, making it a wholly individual yet informative experience. With such ingenious organization featured in Natural World, the Abbott Galleries have set the bar high for following special exhibitions.