Cy Twombly: Works from the Sonnabend Collection brought together all eleven works by the artist from the collection of legendary gallerist and collector Ileana Sonnabend. The show was a rare opportunity to view works from several important stages in the artist’s life, including many which have never before been publicly exhibited. The connection between Twombly and Sonnabend came through mutual friendships with the artist Robert Rauschenberg.
Twombly (1928 –2011) drew upon ideas expressed in poetry, literature, and classical mythology. Full of surface complexity and whirlwinds of tiny detail, his works convey an intense physicality and a real sense of the artist at work.
Untitled (New York City), 1956, is the earliest work in the exhibition. Vigorous gestures are built up layer upon layer, the surface revealing the strata of scrawls partially buried beneath each successive mark, resulting in a painting that is at once archaeology and abstraction.
Another five works from 1959 to 1962 continue to blur the line between painting and writing, with symbols, scribbles, and words occupying the same energized field. With references to cultural figures such as Vivaldi, mythological tales like the Triumph of Galatea, and geographical names such as Roma and Sperlonga, Twombly's work from this period is rich with narrative evocations.
A key work in the show is Untitled, 1969, a gouache and wax crayon on paper. Reminiscent of a blackboard, it is part of a series of works from the late 1960’s that comprise Twombly’s signature ‘gray paintings’.
The two works in the show from the 1970s - both Untitled, 1975 - signal a new direction in his work, with the use of large-scale gestures in bold, vibrant colors, that he would go on
to explore throughout the rest of his working life.
A fully-illustrated hardcover catalogue was published to accompany the exhibition with newly commissioned essays by Annie Cohen-Solal, academic and author of the recent biography of dealer Leo Castelli, and James Lawrence, a critic and historian of postwar and contemporary art and frequent contributor to Burlington Magazine. It is available to purchase through this website.
Ileana Sonnabend (1914-2007)
Ileana Sonnabend looms large as one of the late twentieth century’s most influential dealers and collectors. Her vast art collection was built up over half a decade of collecting and she operated at the cutting edge of contemporary art with artists such as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, James Rosenquist and Claes Oldenburg. Sonnabend famously requested a Matisse instead of an engagement ring from her first husband Leo Castelli with whom she maintained a close alliance. She had an eye for progressive work, showing performances such as Vito Acconci’s Seedbed and Gilbert and George’s Underneath the Arches. Through her galleries - Sonnabend Gallery in New York and Galerie Ileana Sonnabend in Paris - she brought postwar American art to Europe in the 1960’s, and later brought Americans up to speed with developments abroad.