20th Century Art in 20 Unforgettable Works: Cy Twombly’s ‘Untitled’

New York| 8 November

Emily Fisher Landau was, simply put, one of the greatest collectors and patrons of the twentieth century. Her legacy is set apart for her deep and longstanding involvement with leading institutions, in particular the Whitney Museum of American Art, as well as her profound engagement with the art and artists of her time and her unerring instinct as a collector at the highest level. Fisher Landau assembled one of the greatest collections of modern and contemporary art – over 100 works of which are coming to auction at Sotheby’s on 8–9 November.

Join us over the next 20 days leading up to the Emily Fisher Landau Evening Auction on 8 November as our specialists spotlight 20 key works from the Collection, celebrating their impact on twentieth-century art. Here, Oliver Barker reflects on the significance of Cy Twombly’s Untitled as part of our series The Emily Fisher Landau Collection: Twentieth Century Art in Twenty Unforgettable Works.

At once gracefully executed and dramatically scaled, Cy Twombly’s Untitled is a captivating exemplar of the artist’s renowned Blackboard paintings. Executed in 1968, the present work is amongst the most gesturally expressive invocations of the urgent, interrogatory mark-marking which distinguishes the very best examples of this celebrated series. Even within that rarified group, the present work rises to the fore: unlike those Blackboards restrained to neat rows of tightly coiled reverberations, or those which dissolve into complete frenetic abandon, the present work sees Twombly express the exact, thrilling boundary between control and anarchy, order and chaos, intention and accident. Here his lines appear to coalesce into heart-shaped forms that bloom across the surface, before ultimately dissolving into abstraction.

Further distinguished by its exceptionally rich surface of splashes, drips, and smears in dynamically varied hues of grey, slate, and steel blue, Untitled is a spectacularly realized example of the ever-present tension between legibility and abstraction, gesture and expression, signifier and signified that lies at the very heart of Twombly’s extraordinary artistic practice. Bearing remarkable provenance, Untitled was previously held in the collection of the artist Robert Rauschenberg; acquired from Rauschenberg by Emily Fisher Landau in 1986, Untitled stands as a testament to Fisher Landau's enduring patronage of both artists.

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