WHAT: “Cy Twombly: Works from the Sonnabend Collection”
WHEN: April 5-May 19, Tuesday-Saturday 10am-5 pm
WHERE: Eykyn Maclean, 23 East 67th St., New York
WHY THIS SHOW MATTERS: They were owned by one of the most accomplished gallerists of the 20th century, but many of the paintings in “Cy Twombly: Works from the Sonnabend Collection” have never been shown in public before. And, other than the one-room exhibition of painted wood sculptures that went on display at MoMA in May, this gallery exhibition is the first exhibition of work by the artist since his death in July 2011. Though he is best known for work he made decades ago, it appears the world still has a lot to see and learn from this master of brash, childlike scribble.
The most negative thing you could say about the work in this exhibition is that it is “representative” of his style. In auction house-speak, this would be to say that they look like typical Twomblys: full of pencil waves and playful jousts of shapes, lines, numbers, and words — all the best features of an eighth-grade romantic’s scrapbook. Such is the spirit of a work like “Sperlonga Drawing” (1959). There, tiny, awkward rectangles, circles, and lines are placed in neat columns and scattered rows. Everywhere, the paper surface is kissed and flecked with dabs and droplets of white paint. The coastal town in southern Italy referenced in the title is also a classic Twombly reference, evoking peace, pleasure, and a long-held tether to the ancient world.
These days, some might say that this just the sort of thing a new collector might want in order to prove that he owns a signature work by the artist. But their familiarity doesn’t change the fact that that these paintings were bought by Ileana Sonnabend, wife of Leo Castelli, at a time when Twombly’s work was still largely under-appreciated by mainstream critics. Something in Twombly’s view of the world resonated with Sonnabend early on. This show lets the viewer take a gander at what it was that caught her eye.