The Veil of Cy Twombly

Cy Twombly was living in Rome when he painted Treatise on the Veil (Second Version), a massive canvas now on view at The Morgan Library & Museum (through January 25, 2015). It was 1970, four years after he’d delved headfirst into a world ruled seemingly absolutely by gray and white. Twombly’s shift in style could be seen as a return to the “blackboard” aesthetic he’d first pioneered in the mid-1950s with three thickly impastoed, staccatoed canvases, only one of which (Panorama, 1955, Daros Collection, Zurich) survives today. But the artist’s gray-ground period, a five-year stint between 1966 and 1971, illustrates an abandonment of the caustic scratches of his earlier work in favor of a line that is less fragmented and more fluid, less automatic and more calculated, less shrill and more lyrical. Indeed, Treatise was inspired by Pierre Henry’s avant-garde musical composition, The Veil of Orpheus, which records the tearing of a piece of cloth. In his translation of aural to visual phenomena, Twombly reduces his subject matter to its simplest parts, distilling and crystallizing its formal components so as to strengthen its visceral effects.

Cy Twombly’s canvases (including Panorama at back) in Robert Rauschenberg’s Fulton Street studio, ca. 1954.  Image courtesy Le temps retrouvé, Cy Twombly photographe & artistes associés, Collection Lambert (Avignon, été-automne 2011) via The Plumebook Café.
Photograph showing Cy Twombly’s canvases (including Panorama at back) in Robert Rauschenberg’s Fulton Street studio, ca. 1954. Image courtesy Le temps retrouvé, Cy Twombly photographe & artistes associés, Collection Lambert (Avignon, été-automne 2011) via The Plumebook Café.

The Morgan’s installation beautifully captures the visual harmony of Twombly’s work. In all its epic grandeur (the canvas stretches more than thirty feet), Treatise sits in the center of a single gallery, a crescendo amidst a twelve-drawing accompaniment. The drawings radiate centrifugally onto the surrounding walls, at once bracketing and barricading their attendant canvas. About twenty-seven by thirty-six inches each, the drawings are supplementary but not preparatory, and they are positioned as such: separate but equal. As the introductory text asserts, rightly, Treatise is “a meditation on time and space.”[1] The curators have done well to bolster these temporal underpinnings by orchestrating the drawings in approximate chronological order. But the sheer scale of Treatise, hubristic in its spatial demands, along with its diaphanous layers of media suggests something deeper stirs beneath the painting’s surface.

Cy Twombly, Nine Discourses on Commodus: Part VIII, 1963. Oil, wax crayon, and pencil on canvas, 204 x 134 cm. Image courtesy Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa.
Cy Twombly, Nine Discourses on Commodus: Part VIII, 1963. Oil, wax crayon, and pencil on canvas, 204 x 134 cm. Image courtesy Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa.

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EXPAND//FOLD//COLLAPSE// Sculptures by Marta Chilindron: A Conversation with Great Hall Exhibition Curators, Susanna Temkin and Katharine Wright

The following is a transcript of a conversation between IFA PhD candidates Susanna Temkin and Katharine Wright and Master’s student, Caroline Barnett. Temkin and Wright are the co-curators of the Great Hall Exhibition program for the 2014-2015 academic year. The interview took place on October 27, 2014.

Marta Chilindron, Cube 48 Orange, 2014, acrylic, dimensions variable: closed: 48 x 48 x 48 in., Courtesy Cecilia de Torres, Ltd.
Marta Chilindron, Cube 48 Orange, 2014, acrylic, dimensions variable: closed: 48 x 48 x 48 in., Courtesy Cecilia de Torres, Ltd.

CB: So, tell us a little bit about the show. What can we expect to see?

ST: We’re going to be installing a total of eight works by the artist Marta Chilindron, three of which are large-scale. Chilindron creates manipulable sculptural works using transparent and multi-colored plastic-based material. For the show, we are installing works throughout the Great Hall. We wanted to make as much use of the space as possible, so they will be in the vestibule, the lobby space, and on the marble table on the platform right below the staircase. But, right now things are tentative. We’re giving this interview before we do the installation, so we will have to see how everything plays out.

CB: It’s appropriate that the installation is in flux – expanding and collapsing like the title.

ST and KW: Yes!

CB: What were the challenges of curating a show in the Duke House? I imagine it has a lot of limitations.

KW: One of the challenges is the nature of the space…there are a lot of things you have to work around. It’s a place of major circulation; everyone who comes in and out of the building has to go through there at some point – there are classrooms, offices, our lunch room. So that really hinders where you can exhibit things.

ST: This is not a traditional exhibition space. It’s challenging: we had no walls, we had to really respect the building, people have to be able to use it, it’s not climate controlled, etc., etc.

KW: But that’s why Chilindron’s work is so exciting because it dictates that kind of movement and manipulation of space; it can fill it or contract as need be. For example, right now we are involved in discussions about the work, Green Pyramid (2006). Depending on how we choose to install the piece, it can stretch from a hexagonal shape with a diameter of eight feet to a much more condensed, triangular form that uses about half of the floor space.

CB: You can’t change the lighting, can you?

ST: Yes! The building staff will help with spotlights. However, one thing that is important about Chilindron’s art is how the nature of the materials she works with – transparent acrylics and other plastics-based media – interacts with the light effects of the space. I’m really excited to see how the works we install near the staircase will reflect light filtering in from the Duke House’s skylight. For students, I think it will be nice to see how the works change throughout the course of the day or with the weather, for example.

CB: Are you two continuing the program into the spring?

KW: We’ve been tasked with organizing the spring exhibition. I should explain that we’re co-organizers and co-curators of this year’s Great Hall Exhibitions, but Susanna has taken the lead on this show in the fall, and I’m going to take the lead in the spring. We’re still in the process of negotiating what the next exhibition will entail.

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