Cy Twombly at Getty

Making Past Present

Sometimes I see an art exhibition and think, really, give me a break.

It was the last day of the Cy Twombly exhibition at the Getty, and we thought, let’s go, it should not be missed, and it’s going to be fantastic!

I was not impressed, even upset in a way. I talked with two guards; they did not like the exhibition either and seemed relieved it was ending. I spoke with a woman in the bookstore queue who loved it. I inquired further, “what did you like about the exhibition?” I asked. She replied, “the approach, the colors, everything.” She bought not one but two of the exhibition books. I thought, each to his own.

Cy Twombly is one of the most prolific and influential artists of the 20th century. He is best known for his abstract works, which often featured bold brushstrokes, scribbles, and vibrant colors. The exhibition consisted of around 60 paintings, drawings, and sculptures that spanned across five decades of his career, from 1950 to 2010. Most paintings are large, white, or light beige surfaces with a few color spots and scribbled words or letters scattered. It is a well-curated presentation in its attempt to help us understand what inspired Cy Twombly. Ancient bust sculptures, photographs, and written signages made sure of that. The exhibition explores Twombly’s lifelong fascination with the ancient Mediterranean region, tracing an imaginative journey of encounters with and responses to ancient texts and artifacts.

What disturbed me was that I did not find beauty in the art, not even an attempt to create aesthetically appealing paintings. The exhibition is about the artist’s concepts and thinking more than the paintings themselves. And this is, in general, the case with conceptual art. It’s an invitation to come and figure out the artist’s tormented mind as if I don’t have enough of it on my own.

I must admit that I had conflicting views of Cy Twombly’s art. His works once stunned me at the Menil Collection in Huston, especially the colorful flower-like paintings stretched from floor to ceiling. But I often think of Cy Twombly’s works as an example of what’s not working for me in today’s art world, which I refer to as the artsy-fartsy part. A phrase that has long been used to refer to overly pretentious or esoteric art. This type of art is often difficult to comprehend. The upside is that artsy-fartsy art is intended to provoke thought and stimulate discussion in viewers, which is a good thing.

As usual, on a visit to the Getty Center, I discover a new view of the building complex to admire. During this trip, I discovered a block of stone that protruded from the building’s wall and resembled a magnificent sculpture—with the proviso that it was a work of nature.

October 2022