Cy Twombly, Photographs

JTF (just the facts): Published in 1993 by Matthew Marks Gallery (here), in conjunction with an exhibition of the same name. Unpaginated, with 29 color images. Includes details on the portfolios/editions and a short essay by William Katz. The images were taken in Italy between 1984 and 1986 and printed between 1990 and 1994. The prints are grouped into portfolios, in editions of 10+2AP. (Cover shot at right, via Amazon.)

Comments/Context: I was recently nosing around in Dashwood Books (here) and came across this Cy Twombly catalog. I’ve been meaning to educate myself about Twombly’s use of photography, and this seemed like a good place to start.
The term “pictorialist“, when applied to an early 20th century photographer making works in the style of paintings, has evolved to have a generally negative connotation, a reminder of the soft focus banality of mothers and daughters and overly artful landscapes. In seeing these contemporary works, where a painter is making works in the style of photographs, calling Twombly a “pictorialist” seems less like a cutting put down and more like an apt characterization of his approach. His images of classical busts, a riot of pink tulips, or the skyward view of tree branches are unabashedly romantic and painterly; it is no wonder he was labeled an Expressionist.
The prints have been made using the Fresson process, a print making approach I associate with the work of Shelia Metzner. The process highlights the texture of the underlying paper, creating washes of fuzzy tactile color, gradations of tone smoothed out into soft blurs; everything seems bathed in warm Italian sunlight. The indistinct nature of the process is a perfect match for Twombly’s close up cropped compositions, which vibrate between swirls of positive and negative space, stepping into the realm of abstraction.
While Twombly is of course primarily know as a painter, these are surprisingly enticing photographs; it is always astonishing to me when something new can be done with a pot of tulips. Dig up a copy of this book to see a painter’s view of photography and to be reminded that pictorialism doesn’t have to be a dirty word.
Collector’s POV: Cy Twombly is represented by Gagosian Gallery in New York (here). His photographs have not been readily available in the secondary markets, so gallery retail is likely the only option at this point for interested collectors. For our collection, the portfolio Tulips II, which has the floral images which are the most undefined and ethereal of the series, would be a terrific fit.
Transit Hub:
  • 2008 exhibition of photographs at Huis Marseille (here)
  • 1996 Artscenecal review of show of photographs at Gagosian (here)

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Read more about: Cy Twombly, Gagosian Gallery, Matthew Marks Gallery

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