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david ebony's top ten

cy twombly at gagosian

Nov. 5 - Dec. 20, 1997  

By the Ionian Sea
   This haunting installation of ten bronzes produced over four decades proves that Cy Twombly, who is widely regarded as one of the foremost painters of our time, is also one of our most accomplished sculptors. In these evocative works, the 68-year-old artist, who divides his time between Italy and Virginia, manages to translate the textures of plaster, wood, bamboo, various plants and metal wire -- from which the maquettes are made -- into the elusive language of bronze. David Sylvester, in his wonderful essay for the exhibition's rather pricey catalogue, quotes Twombly as saying "Bronze unifies the thing. It abstracts the forms from the materials." A group of colorful works on paper, exhibited in the small gallery, is an added treat in the show.

Several tall, slender bronzes with dusty white patinas suggest Giacometti figures, but in Twombly's work, any existential dilemma is offset by a cool and somber grace. One totem-like bronze, which seems to beacon with a tranquilizing, almost intoxicating power, is topped with what appears to be a ripe pod of an opium poppy. Another sculpture looks like an architectural model in which two buildings shaped like cresting waves stand near a form that resembles a tall tower in an open field.

My favorite works are those featuring wheel-like shapes. An untitled work from 1991 seems to be a model of a long, low chariot that one might find in a Roman archeological museum. Similarly, Rotalla (1990) could be made of wagon wheels from the Middle Ages, so convincingly does the bronze convey the weathered feel of ancient wood.

Twombly's art is about subtlety and understatement. In his sculpture, he manages to command space without a display of aggression. Instead, he uses the gentlest of means to create suprisingly dynamic spatial relationships. Twombly's sculpture evokes a distant time and place. During two visits to the show, I lost myself in the work.

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