Cy Twombly

There should be no doubt Cy Twombly took his own work seriously. The question always has been whether or not the art world was playing a joke on itself by venerating his frenetic scribbles and puerile figures. Donald Judd famously panned his work, and even Kirk Varnedoe, curator behind Twombly’s 1994 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, felt the need to say, “Your Kid Could Not Do This,” in the title of an accompanying essay.

“Cy Twombly: Paradise,” a two-story retrospective of paintings and sculptures at Mexico City’s Museo Jumex, travels along all the artist’s creative peregrinations. Landscape (1951) has Twombly playing in the key of abstract expressionism, but by Panorama (1955) he has begun his frantic scribbling, and The First Part of the Return from Parnassus (1961) is painted in what might be called Signature Twombly Style, complete with scrawled text, Classical references and simple drawings of penises and breasts. By the late 1960s and early ‘70s, Twombly was vacillating between so-called blackboard paintings, large canvases produced by sitting on a buddy’s shoulders, and further childlike, figurative works.

Adorned with names such as de Menil, Broad and Gagosian, the labels next to each work do not offer much context for the casual viewer, and many visitors on a Sunday afternoon in June quickly glanced at Twombly’s earlier paintings before squinting in search of more information, finding little, and moving onto the next. All of this changed on the upper floor, the jewel of Jumex, its high ceilings brimming with natural light, where Twombly’s later works dazzled with color. The Rose (IV) (2008) dominates one wall, its four panels and heavily summarized poem from Rainer Maria Rilke grabbing your eyes from across the room. It is a bright spot in a brilliant retrospective, sure to bring at least a few skeptics over to Twombly’s side.

Keith Plocek