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Untitled (New York City)
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Untitled (New York City)
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About the item

In 1950, when he was twenty-two years old, Cy Twombly arrived in Manhattan to an environment buzzing with the artistic fervor of Abstract Expressionism in its surging ascent. Jackson Pollock had resolved his earlier Surrealist inspired compositions into monumental all-over dripped canvases such as One: Number 31 (1950); Willem de Kooning had begun the seminal masterpiece that would redefine his corpus, Woman I (1950-52); Barnett Newman’s eponymous 'zip' had become the unequivocal and definitive mark of his corpus in paradigmatic works such as Vir Heroicus Sublimis (1950-51); and Franz Kline’s impassioned gestural swathes of black pigment on a white ground had formed iconic abstractions such as Chief (1950). Spurred by the seemingly limitless and utterly voracious pioneering drive of these critical figures, New York City had become the undisputed seat of innovation and groundbreaking experimentation in the visual arts. With popular conceptions of painting and sculpture recalibrated and redefined by the first generation of Abstract Expressionists, the stage was set for the younger sect – Cy Twombly, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jasper Johns among them – to embrace, question, and advance the formal and conceptual progressions enacted by their illustrious predecessors. Having been afforded the freedom to seek further realms of artistic investigation, Twombly embarked upon a singular artistic journey that would break from and ultimately redefine the canon of art history in the Twentieth Century. Untitled (New York City), executed in 1956, is an early and stunningly impactful example of Cy Twombly’s formative oeuvre, and a crystallized distillation of his breakthrough paintings of the mid-1950s, which mark the inception of a theme that would become central to the artist’s output for the subsequent five decades: the unadulterated confluence of media and subject. Twombly’s inimitable dynamism is made wholly manifest across every inch of Untitled (New York City). The artist’s ubiquitous oil-based house paint, graphite, and wax crayon media exhibit all the visceral and urgent mark-making, serene and elegant form and color, and graphic and textural drama that have become synonymous with the best of his radical aesthetic. Moreover, the genesis of the present work provides important insight into Twombly’s method as it in fact took as its starting point the earlier painting LaLa of 1953 (which appears as number 38 in Heiner Bastian’s catalogue raisonné). In this instance, the artist replaced a painting of three years earlier with the unrestrained incisions of his sgrafitto scrawl; cutting through not only the impasto layers of new paint, but also the precedent of his own output. In the year immediately prior to the execution of this painting, Frank O’Hara had written a review of Twombly’s work in ARTnews. O’Hara’s immediately perceptive analysis was not only lyrical – describing how “a bird seems to have passed through the impasto with cream-colored screams and bitter claw-marks” – but also recognized the groundbreaking conflation of media, practice, and artistic conception that defines Twombly’s oeuvre. As O’Hara explained, Twombly’s work manifested a direct correlation between the ground and the motif and between painting and drawing: “this new development makes the painting itself the form.” (Frank O’Hara, “Cy Twombly,” ARTnews, vol. 53, no. 9, January 1955, p. 46) Untitled (New York City) is the ultimate expression of this breakthrough development and marks the point of maturity of one of the most significant artistic careers of recent art history.\nUnlike his American contemporaries, whose art and personas were inescapably linked by the expressionist quality of the gesture, Twombly's marks evoked something of an analytical self-awareness. Twombly's mature work may appear as if affected by the natural elements over great passages of time and here the schematic incisions of Untitled (New York City) are richly scratched and gouged in pencil through the impasto of the paint surface. Describing Twombly's solo exhibition held at the Stable Gallery in 1955, Robert Rauschenberg remarked, "Everybody said that it wasn't painting, but drawing." (Robert Rauschenberg cited in Barbara Rose, An Interview with Robert Rauschenberg, New York, 1987, p. 37) Analyzing this observation, Richard Leeman has insightfully deconstructed the ambiguity of the terms 'drawing' and 'painting': "Each means three things: a practice (the act of drawing or painting), its outcome (a drawing or a painting) and an institutional category (painting, drawing)...The distinction between painting and drawing does indeed rely on both the relationship between subject and ground and the status of white in that relationship, particularly in a development in which, as had happened recently, the notion of painting (in America) was linked to color, and through which...Twombly, with his formless drawings, punched a giant hole at the very zenith of abstract expressionism." (Richard Leeman, Cy Twombly: A Monograph, London, 2005, p. 43)\nFollowing the end of a teaching position in the art department at the Southern Seminary and Junior College in Buena Vista, Virginia, in the Spring of 1956, Twombly moved back to an apartment on William Street in New York, where he remained for the rest of the year. While Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns lived in neighboring lofts on Pearl Street, Twombly also visited his friend Conrad Marca-Relli on Long Island, where he met Jackson Pollock a number of times. Pollock is, of course, a defining influence, but also the standard from which Twombly was able to advance. As attested by Nicholas Cullinan, "the graffiti-like scratches, scribbles and frenetic lines that envelop his work from the mid-1950s simultaneously referred to and subverted the then-dominant calligraphic painterly mode of Abstract Expressionism...If Pollock had set the pace for how Twombly's generation should paint, then Twombly's rejection of the brush in favour of the pencil liberated him from the former's drips and splatters. Through them, Twombly was able to move away from the machismo of the stereotypical 'action painter,' and to neuter this with indecision, hesitancy and doubt, thus brushing aside the belligerence of Abstract Expressionism." (Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern (and traveling), Cy Twombly: Cycles and Seasons, 2008, p. 58)\nThe mysterious character of Untitled (New York City) possesses an irresistible energy as the product of Twombly's innovation and unique abstract aesthetic. The contrast between the manipulation of impasto plasticity and the ethereal delicacy of the elusive pencil strokes creates a visual dynamism and breathes life into the work. Scribbled suggestions of underwriting, looped swirls, and dribbled impasto evade simple definition or categorization, which in turn points to the artist's core objective. As Kirk Varnedoe declared, "Twombly all but abandoned the paintbrush in order to elide - with the pencil point, a broader graphite-rubbing stroke, and wax crayon - any remaining distinction between painting and drawing." (Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art (and traveling), Cy Twombly: A Retrospective, 1994, p. 20) By experimenting with indeterminate iconography Twombly questioned the assumptions of conventional visual vocabularies, frames of reference, and sign systems. Consequently, as the great literary critic and philosopher Roland Barthes commented, "What happens on the stage Twombly offers us is something which partakes of several kinds of event." (Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Cy Twombly: Paintings and Drawings 1954-1977, 1979, p. 9)\nSigned, dated 1956 and inscribed (signed NYC 1985) on the reverse
US
NY, US
US

medium

Oil based house paint, wax crayon and lead pencil on canvas

creator

Cy Twombly

condition

Please contact the Contemporary Art department at 212-606-7254 for the condition report prepared by Terrence Mahon. This canvas is framed in a wood strip frame painted white, mounted under Plexiglas in a larger wood shadow box frame painted white with a 3 inch float. In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion. NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING CONDITION OF A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD "AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF SALE PRINTED IN THE CATALOGUE.

dimensions

45 1/8 x 53 1/4 in. 114.6 x 135.3 cm.

exhibition

Milwaukee, Milwaukee Art Center, Cy Twombly Paintings and Drawings, January - February 1968, cat. no. 7 (checklist) (incorrectly titled LaLa) New York, Hirschl & Adler Modern, Cy Twombly, April - May 1986, cat. no. 1, illustrated in color on the cover and n.p. (text) (dated 1955-56) Zurich, Kunsthaus Zürich; Madrid, Palacio de Velazquez/Palacio de Cristal; London, Whitechapel Art Gallery; Düsseldorf, Städtische Kunsthalle; Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Galeries Contemporaines, Centre Georges Pompidou, Cy Twombly. Bilder, Arbeiten auf Papier, Skulpturen, February 1987 - April 1988, cat. no. 7, p. 43, illustrated in color (Zurich), p. 41, illustrated in color (Madrid), p. 43, illustrated in color (London and Düsseldorf) and p. 45, illustrated in color (Paris) (dated 1955-56) New York, Museum of Modern Art; Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago; Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, High and Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture, October 1990 - September 1991, cat. no. 46, p. 94, illustrated and pp. 95-96 (text) (dated 1955-56)

literature

Heiner Bastian, ed., Cy Twombly Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Volume I, 1948-1960, Munich, 1992, cat. no. 65, p. 123, illustrated in color Stéphanie Busuttil, White, Paris, 2001, pl. 67, pp. 136-137, illustrated in color (detail) (dated 1955-56) 

provenance

Robert Indiana, New York and Vinal Haven, Maine (acquired from the artist) Sotheby's, New York, October 31, 1984, Lot 52 Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne/Paris Private Collection, New York (acquired from the above in 2002)

signedDate

Signed, dated 1956 and inscribed (signed NYC 1985) on the reverse

creator_nationality_dates

1928 - 2011





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