Cy Twombly Making Past Present

Cy Twombly 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 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.

As I walked through the art exhibition, something troubled me deeply. It wasn’t just that I failed to see the beauty in the paintings on display. In fact, it seemed to me that the artist hadn’t even attempted to create something aesthetically pleasing. Instead, the exhibition seemed to be more about the artist’s ideas and concepts than about the art itself. And this, I realized, is a common feature of conceptual art.

As I continued to wander through the exhibition, I found myself grappling with conflicting emotions. On the one hand, I remembered being awed by Cy Twombly’s works at the Menil Collection in Houston. Those colorful flower-like paintings, stretching from floor to ceiling, had left an indelible impression on me. But on the other hand, I couldn’t help feeling that Twombly’s works were a perfect example of what wasn’t working for me in the contemporary art world.

I suppose what I’m referring to is what some people might call the “artsy-fartsy” part of the art world. That phrase has long been used to describe art that is overly pretentious or esoteric. And I must confess that I often find this type of art difficult to comprehend.

But as I stood there, pondering the works before me, I realized that there is an upside to artsy-fartsy art. It is intended to provoke thought and stimulate discussion in viewers. And in a world where we are constantly bombarded with information and distractions, perhaps that is exactly what we need. So even though I couldn’t quite connect with Cy Twombly’s works on this particular day, I left the exhibition feeling grateful for the opportunity to engage with his art and ideas and to reflect on my own tormented mind.

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