'There comes a point in the creative course of every great artist or poet, when the image of beauty which, up to that moment, he had pursued in a seemingly continuous upward movement, suddenly reverses direction and becomes visible vertically, in its fall. It is the movement that Hölderlin defined, in the notes to his translation of Sophocles, as 'caesura' or 'anti-rhythmic interruption': when the word, as if checked in mid-flight, for a moment reveals not what it says, but its own nature...when the artist in his unparalleled style no longer creates but decreates - that untitled messianic moment in which art stays miraculously still, almost astounded: fallen and risen in every instant'
(G. Agamben, quoted in Twombly 8 Sculptures, exh. cat., American Academy, Rome, 1998, p. 5).
'For myself,' Twombly had written about his work very early on in his career, 'the past is the source (of my art)... for all art is vitally contemporary. I'm drawn to the primitive, the ritual, fetish elements, to the symmetrical plastic order (peculiarly basic to both primitive and classic concepts, so relating the two)... Generally speaking, my art has evolved out of an interest in symbols abstracted, but nevertheless humanistic... and a deeply aesthetic sense of eroded or ancient surfaces of time'
(C. Twombly, quoted in Cy Twombly: A Retrospective, exh. cat, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1994, p.14).
The origins of the present work lie in 1966 and a sculpture that Twombly gave his old friend from Virginia, Betty Stokes as a tenth wedding anniversary gift . Fourteen years later Twombly asked for this sculpture back in order to rework it. The result was a complete reinvention of the original in the form of a large vertical standing plaster sculpture - one that was to prove the first in a major series of tall, thin vertical sculptures seeming to rise and then fall from a bulbous and organic-looking base which the artist made repeatedly throughout the 1980s. Untitled (Rome) is a bronze cast from this pioneering plaster of 1980-81.
Untitled (Rome) is a work that, like many of Twombly's bronze sculptures has, after casting, also been coated with a layer of white in order also to resemble an ancient and perhaps recently dug-up archeological artifact from some hitherto unknown Mediterranean culture. 'White paint is my marble,' Twombly once said of his sculptures in this respect, and each of these semi-organic, semi-architectonic and columnar standing works functions as an impressive, elementary monument-like form expressive of architecture, organic growth and the passage of time. Seeming to thrust vertically upwards like the stem of a plant from an organic-looking base before turning back in on itself and rooting down into its base, each of these works also follows the principle set out in the 1980-81 plaster of forming a looping structure, part obelisk, part anti-classical arch, part hand-crafted sculptural monument.
This sense of a simple and fundamental architecture combined with the cyclical nature of rising and falling, of growth and decay, building and collapse, all contained within the looping structure of the sculpture, is the central theme running through all these celebrated works. It also forms the architectonic basis of several later memorial-type sculptures that Twombly was to build in the 1990s and early 2000s. The origins of this rising and then falling motif lie perhaps in some of Twombly's very earliest sculptural work - works such as Untitled from 1946 (N. del Roscio, p. 31, no. 4) and Untitled 1955 (N. del Roscio, p. 50, no. 16, collection of the artist). It is a key motif in Twombly's oeuvre that was finally reinforced by the artist when he bestowed on a number of works of this type, plaques bearing written inscriptions. Two in particular, Untitled from 1984 (N. del Roscio, p. 160, no. 71, collection of the artist) and Untitled of 1987 (N. del Roscio, p. 162, no. 72) are appended with handwritten plaques onto which were inscribed the last lines of Rainer Maria Rilke's 10th Duino Elegy: 'And we who have always thought of happiness climbing, would feel the emotion that almost startles when happiness falls'.
Expressive of an almost orgasmic pinnacle of attainment, of becoming definable, solid, classical form and then subsiding back into organic, formless dissolution, these looping 'broken columns' speak of the relationship between art and life through the emergence and subsequent dissolution or decay of form. They are sculptural manifestations of the 'will to form'. In addition, they also, in emulation of ancient artifacts from the distant past speak of art's ability to transcend its own time and speak eternally to later generations, to be both rising and falling entities, in this respect at the same time. It is within this context that the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben wrote of sculptures such as this work that they articulate the 'messianic moment in which art stays miraculously still, almost astounded; fallen and risen in every instant' (G. Agamben, quoted in Twombly 8 Sculptures, exh. cat., American Academy, Rome, 1998, p. 5).
It is in this context too that the original, and perhaps mistaken title, once given to the plaster version of the present work must also be seen. At one time, this sculpture bore the title, 'In time the wind will come and destroy my lemons'. Similarly evocative of the cyclical path of life, death and the passage of time, this title, originated by Twombly himself, was subsequently used by him for another dissimilar sculpture.
It was ultimately because of the fragility of the original plaster, wood and cloth work that Twombly agreed to ask Gabriele Stocchi to arrange the casting of an edition of five bronze versions in 1990. The casting of a work in bronze helps, Twombly said, to 'unify the thing. It abstracts the forms from the material. People want to know about what the material constituents are; it helps them identify the work with something. But I want each sculpture to be seen as a whole, as a sculpture' (C. Twombly, quoted in D. Sylvester, 'The World is Light', 1997, in N. del Roscio (ed.), Writings on Twombly, Munich 2002, p. 276). In addition, the practice of making bronze casts also emulates the Greco-Roman tradition of making copies after a lost original and therefore once again plays on his work's association with antiquity. To further enhance this, after casting, Twombly added white paint to the bronze to illuminate the work with a radiant Mediterranean whiteness and give it a patina that appears both archaic and timeless, bestowing on it the quality and the aura of archeological mystery, of a relic of history retrieved after having spent many years in the ground.
Betty Stokes and Robert Brown in Conversation
Betty, you were one of Cy Twombly's oldest and closest friends and the reason, he said, not so long ago in an interview with Nicholas Serota, that he came out to Italy in 1957 before famously deciding to live there. Where did you first meet him?
I met him through a mutual friend in Lexington, Virginia. I had just graduated and we got on like hot cakes because we were interested in the same things. We talked about art together and our aesthetic was the same....From then on we would go for picnics and go swimming together, and so on. He had worked with a painter called Pierre Daura who also taught at Randolph Macon Women's College, as it was then called - where I studied for four years, and Doura had a summer place outside of Lexington where Cy worked with him. Doura was very important to Cy at this time as he was to me so that was another thing we had in common - that we had both had the same teacher. Cy was just about to go up to Black Mountain College for the last time at this time and he asked if I'd like to go with him but I had plans to go to New York so I didn't go and Cy went off to Black Mountain and then he went off to Europe with Bob (Rauschenberg) and I went to New York and I didn't see him until he got back from Europe.
When he came back in the autumn of '53?
Yes, when he was sharing a studio with Bob, I knew them both then and then Cy wrote to me a lot when he went into the army.
When did you go to Italy?
In '55, I went there working on a modeling job for a magazine and I thought, I wanted to stay on in Europe, that I could go on to Paris and London as I'd never been to Europe, but instead I just got stuck in Rome.
Did you come back to New York before Twombly famously came out to see you in '57?
Yes, I had got married in Rome and I came back on a visit to New York and that's when Cy said, as I told you, Rob, that he always thought I was going to marry him that was in New York at that time
You were responsible for introducing Twombly to his future wife when he came to see you on his second visit to Italy in 1957 and he was to stay for the rest of his life, of course, but when he came out, was he planning a long visit?
I don't know how long he was planning to stay. Based on letters I have, it would seem he wanted to stay for quite a while. He stayed with us in Grottaferrata there was an extra room and he lived with us for a short time. We had fun, he'd go up every afternoon and get ice creams and so on. We were like brother and sister really. He set up a studio and he did paintings in that place with us. I don't remember all of them but one of them I know was called Blue Room, and then we introduced him to the Franchettis and Plinio de Martiis and he moved into Rome, but we all had a very interesting life in Rome together. We had lots of fun...There was a lot going on then
Yes, I've seen that wonderful photograph of Twombly and de Kooning and Afro on a night out in Rome around this time, which has always conveyed something of that fun to me
Well, I knew Afro, and I knew Burri, because I had met him when he had a show at Eleanor Ward's gallery (The Stable Gallery in New York)... I remember Burri let me stay in his studio when I arrived, and I stayed there for a week or so. I met Afro through Plinio I think and de Kooning came out much later with Pollock's girlfriend Ruth but that was around 1960 at a time when I was very ill after my second son was born so I wasn't going out so much at that time but there was a lot going on.
And I believe that the origins of this sculpture (present work) lie in one that Twombly first gave you in Rome in 1966.
Yes, originally it was a gift for my tenth Wedding anniversary. He gave me a sculpture with a bowler-hat shaped form. It seems to be the same oval-type shape as forms the base of the sculpture as it is now, only turned upside-down and with this light-bulb fitting in it. It sat on a platform which I suppose it might even be the same platform that the plaster original of this sculpture is on now, I don't know, but on this was written: 'Roma 56-66' in reference to my ten years of marriage.
One of the interesting things about this date is that it is presumed that Twombly stopped making sculptures around 1959 and didn't really start again until 1976, yet he gave you this sculpture in 1966?
Well, I don't know, the sculpture could, of course, have been made in 1959 and then dedicated to me in '66
Did you like it?
Yes, but it was kind of difficult to place.
Did it have any special personal reference or meaning for you?
Just the dedication, I had it for several years and then at some time, I don't know the date, he said to me, I'd like to have that back because I'd like to do something to it. Obviously, he wasn't satisfied with it and he wanted to do something and that's when he added the two sticks.
Almost completely changed it?
Yes, it came back with the two sticks and he had called it originally, 'In time the wind will destroy my lemons', and he gave me a tag with this title .He also used this title on another sculpture. The sculpture was beautiful and it was so typically Cy, in plaster and whitewash etc, but it was so delicate, I think now I would have been wise to just put a plastic cover on it to keep it but I didn't, I had kids in the house and all that, so I just kept it like this for while, but it was very fragile and so I had the idea to do a bronze, So I asked Cy if he would allow me to have one made and he agreed and asked Gabrielle Stocchi to arrange to have an edition of five made.