Both benefiting from and reflecting Twombly’s remarkable and deeply sensual mastery of material, Untitled (Rome) articulates the influence of classical antiquity upon the artist’s oeuvre with an arresting corporeality and compelling intimacy. The present work is one of an edition of six, cast in resin by the artist in 1985 from an earlier, assemblage-esque work of wood, cloth, nails, and house paint, precisely composed upon an ovoid base and supported by a high plinth. While Twombly’s absorption of found objects invites associations with the radical social sculpture of Joseph Beuys or the uncomplicated materials of Italian Arte Povera, Twombly’s found materials look to far more antiquated sources of inspiration than the everyday. On the unornamented altar of Untitled (Rome), the assembled ephemera of Twombly’s icon rest: eleven rods, bound by coarse linen into a row, their uniform verticality upset by a slight unevenness that provides a rhythmic energy to the form. The rectangular, archaic character of the sculpture is strikingly reminiscent of a pan pipe, or syrinx, the mythical instrument of the Greek diety Pan that was said to produce a sound so bewitchingly persuasive that it simulated speech. As Heiner Bastian describes, “In the myths of the Mediterranean world, in its epics and tragedies, and in the evocation of the imaginable physis of these myths, there lies an alluring animation which has now been alive in Cy Twombly’s works for decades…” (Heiner Bastian, ed., Cy Twombly: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume V, 1997-2007, Munich, 2009, pp. 33-34) Indeed, the robust presence of myth in the present work, which mirrors an overall tendency in Twombly’s painting from this period, is indebted to the artist’s increasing fascination with the ancient history of the Mediterranean following his move to Italy in 1957. Notably, the initial Untitled (Rome) dates to 1959, the same year that Twombly married an Italian painter, Luisa Tatiana Franchetti, and the two settled in Rome. There, surrounded by the rich cultural tapestry of classical antiquity embedded in the winding streets and crumbling citadels of the ancient city, Twombly’s abstract vernacular acquired a Hellenic classicism and mythic significance that is emphatically articulated in the present work. Strikingly, Twombly’s absorption of the past is not limited to his treatment of antiquity; Untitled (Rome) of 1959 is a smoother and more refined iteration of a coarser, fetish-like panpipe sculpture from 1953, given by Twombly to his friend, Robert Rauschenberg, and now held in the collection of the Rauschenberg Foundation. In his second return to the form in 1985, to cast in resin the edition of six from which the present work originates, Twombly recalls the archaeological antecedent of the Roman sculptors, who produced exquisite copies of original, or vanished, Greek statues. Enduringly fascinated with the residual influence of past within present, Twombly’s sculptures, which not only have the roughened patina and totemic gravity of archeological relics but actively revisit the sculptural tropes of antiquity, firmly attest to Rosalind Krauss’s thesis, “Without doubt, modern sculpture was born from classical archaeology.”(Rosalind Krauss, “Objet (Petit) a,” in Exh. Cat., Columbus, Wexner Center for the Arts, Part Object, Part Sculpture, 2005, p. 85) Echoing this sentiment, Nicholas Cullinan reflects, “To encounter the past is to put into question the present. This sense of awe and perplexity at overlaid tenses and times and encountering places only previously known in the imagination…offered for Twombly a palimpsest of past, present and future; layered, intertwined and interpenetrating each other like archaeological strata.” (Nicholas Cullinan in Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern, Cy Twombly: Cycles and Seasons, 2008, p. 74)
Enshrouding the sculpture in uniform opacity, the sublime whiteness of Untitled (Rome) brings together the disparate elements of the sculpture’s form into a single, unified whole. Indeed, this achromatic similitude is a trait shared by the vast majority of the artist’s sculptural oeuvre as, since 1948, Twombly has unswervingly veiled his sculpture in white paint or encased them in plaster. Remarking upon this formal choice, Twombly notes, “White paint is my marble. I have thought of adding colors, like Picasso did in his Glass of Absinthe, but I didn’t succeed.” (Cy Twombly cited in Franz Meyer, “Die Spuren subjektiver Existenz. Ausstellung Cy Twombly im Kunsthaus Zürich,” Neue Züricher Zeitung, March 1987, p. 65) While the seemingly informal, even casual application of the white paint encases the sculpture in the fragmentary patina of archaeological relics recently retrieved from the ground, it simultaneously baths the everyday ephemera of the sculpture in a classicizing reverence. Asked to comment on Twombly’s sculptural oeuvre, sculptor Richard Serra commented, “I like them because they are white... The light streams in, and what I was really taken with was the fragility of the sculptures and the fact that they reflected the light that way, like old plaster castaways.” (Richard Serra, cited in “The Cy Twombly Gallery at The Menil Collection: A Conversation.” Res. Anthropology and Aesthetics 28, autumn 1995, pp. 181-83) The opaque veneer of Untitled (Rome) brings the specific execution of line and form in the sculpture into sharp relief, emphasizing the harmonic balance of verticality and horizontality in the uppermost section of the sculpture. Describing the present work, Katharina Schmidt reflects, “The three-fold horizontal articulation of the overall sculpture, which is repeated in the ‘flute,’ the extremely carefully balanced proportions, and the luminescent white paint, underline the unity of the figure and its setting combine to give the work its classic beauty.” (Exh. Cat., Kunstmuseum Basel, Cy Twombly: Die Skulptur, 2000, p. 49) Indeed, in its exquisite blend of unassuming simplicity and timeless grandeur, modern form and classical influence, Untitled (Rome) attests to Twombly’s own assessment, when asked to address his sculptural oeuvre: “Actually…There’s a certain perfection in most of them.” (Kate Nesin, Cy Twombly’s Things, New Haven, 2014, p. 5)
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