… the terms in which this work is cast, its rhetoric, enable the artist to slip out from under the net of identifications which culture itself imposes …
… To children, to foreigners (and in history we are all foreigners), such works as Guernica or Anghiari are alien indeed, yet they come to us demanding a posture of intimacy, of understanding, embodying as they do, an artist’s response to the wreckage they signify. Was it not Picasso who once called a painting the sum of its destructions?
[ … ]
… Twombly’s version, his reading of our mortal lot, is sufficiently concerned to acknowledge the tradition — beginning with his very choice of Lepanto as a subject; after all, no admiral of the Venetian fleet or commander of the Turkish forces compelled him to exonerate or mourn the sixteenth century carnage off the East coast of Greece. Twombly’s version is also sufficiently discreet — distinguished by his refusal or inability to single out the winning side; or to celebrate those who sounded what poetry, with suitable ambiguity, has called “the wailing trumpets of victory.”
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… Twombly’s works of the last 20 years are probably the most intimate and the least personal art of our moment. So much of the familiar denotative world has been taken away. His works move upon the canon, as upon the paper, the wood, the twine, the painted metal that they come up with as if their creator had become a child again, though no child’s innocence could look as innocent as all this.
[line break added] Twombly’s figuration, which has enabled him to accede to one of the great classical themes of Western art from within an anthology of transit, is so simple, so childish, indeed, that many have been baffled by its rhetoric. His creation of The Battle of Lepanto, recapitulating as it does an entire career, was a perilous undertaking, since it could have marked the tombstone stage of his making, a terminus indeed.
[line break added] But the terms in which this work is cast, its rhetoric, enable the artist to slip out from under the net of identifications which culture itself imposes upon the inveterate maker. His sequence, therefore, does not have the air of The Old Man’s Toys, that dread notion by which we may defer or defuse our engagement with an artist’s late works.
[line break added] If anything, the twelve panels connote “the child’s weapons,” the means by which an innocent eye confronts battle, whereof both the losing and the winning convey the doom of human experience. Twombly’s work cannot be accounted for within a rhetoric of “old mastery” but only through an encounter with those marks and signs, the smears and squiggles, which he alone knows how to make. With them, Twombly has created a Lepanto we have all won and lost, the battle of making art.
My most recent previous post from this book is here.