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ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO ACQUIRES FIRST WORKS BY CY TWOMBLY
Monumental Parnassus Canvases From Early 1960s
Cornerstones of Contemporary Collection
The Art Institute of Chicago is pleased to announce the acquisition of two monumental works by Cy Twombly, The First Part of the Return from Parnassus and The Second Part of the Return from Parnassus. The works, which have been on a long-term loan to the museum from a private collection, are the first paintings by Twombly to enter the Art Institute’s permanent collection. The First Part of the Return from Parnassus has been purchased through a prior gift of Mary and Leigh Block, The Marian and Samuel Klasstorner Fund, Major Acquisitions Endowment Fund, Wirt D. Walker Trust, Estate of Walter Aitken, Director’s Fund, Helen A. Regenstein Endowment, and the Laura T. Magnuson Acquisition Fund. The Second Part of the Return from Parnassus has been purchased through a prior partial gift of the Stenn Family in memory of Marcia Stenn.
“This recent acquisition unites, for the first time, two related but distinct works,” said James Rondeau, Frances and Thomas Dittmer Chair of Contemporary Art at the Art Institute of Chicago. “Executed in succession and titled sequentially, these two canvases present complimentary aspects of Twombly’s art during the early 1960s—arguably his most inventive, influential period. These early paintings offer a mix of schematic, cerebral, even diagrammatic forms and numbers together with organic pictograms and often active, insistent references to corporeal processes—sexual and otherwise. Such dualities of mind and body, inherent in Twombly’s art, are further reflected in the pairing of the present works. In style and theme, they are milestones in Twombly’s career as well as in the development of abstract art in the twentieth century more generally. Their value to the contemporary collection is inestimable.”
Twombly was born in Lexington, Virginia in 1928. He studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Washington and Lee University in Virginia; the Art Students League in New York; and Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where he worked with Franz Kline and Robert Motherwell. In 1964, he was invited to participate in the Venice Biennale, and he had his first retrospective exhibition, at the Milwaukee Art Center, four years later. In Houston, the Menil Collection has devoted a Renzo Piano–designed building to more than 30 of his paintings, drawings, and sculpture. His works are in collections worldwide, notably at the Tate Modern in London, the Guggenheim Museum in New York, and the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich. Currently Twombly maintains homes in Virginia and Italy. In 2001, he won the prestigious Golden Lion Award at the Venice Biennale.
The First Part of the Return from Parnassus and The Second Part of the Return from Parnassus are signature works of the artist, emblematic of the themes Twombly has explored throughout his career in his always varying yet recognizable style. Evidence of Twombly’s life-long exploration of mark-making through the use of scribbles, letters, numbers, and graffiti-like forms, the works combine painting, drawing, writing, and gesture on a monumental scale. Measuring approximately 9 by 10 feet and 6-1/2 by 8-1/2 feet respectively, the canvases are vast expanses in which explosions of form and color erupt, come together, and break apart. Using lead and colored pencils, oil paint, and wax crayon, Twombly achieves a multitude of effects, from the delicate and evocative to the aggressive and belligerent. The First Part of the Return from Parnassus is a tough, earthy, almost brutish painting, while The Second Part of the Return from Parnassus evidences soft, lyrical, even elegant qualities. Illuminating two subtly different approaches to surface, the pairing is convincing and yet also flexible.
The titles of the works pay homage to art, myth, and allegory with their reference to Mount Parnassus, the center of poetry, music, and learning in ancient Greece. The home of Apollo as well as the muses, Parnassus is also the subject of a Vatican fresco by Raphael of 1511 and the Parnassus Plays , a series of 16th and 17th century scholastic “entertainments” that were
a satirical look at the adventures of two disillusioned graduates troubled by their lack of employment opportunities and a general lack of respect for learning in the larger world. Historians and critics, notably the late Kirk Varnedoe, have related the references and expansiveness of the works to Twombly’s move, in 1958, from the United States to Rome. Ripe with sensuality and a freedom of expression new to Twombly’s production to that point, The First Part of the Return from Parnassus and The Second Part of the Return from Parnassus combine classical referents with a gesture-based and intuitive form of expression, a form of improvisational language without the use of language.
These two works by Cy Twombly will be anchors of the Art Institute of Chicago’s contemporary collection, which, because of space limitations, the museum has never been able to show to full effect. The museum’s Modern Wing, designed by Renzo Piano and currently under construction, is the future home of the contemporary collection. Visitors to the Modern Wing, scheduled to open in mid-2009, will find an entire floor of the west pavilion of the building devoted to contemporary art. Featuring landmark works by such artists as Vija Celmins, Robert Gober, Eva Hesse, Jasper Johns, Donald
Judd, Kerry James Marshall, Joan Mitchell, Bruce Nauman, Martin Puryear, Charles Ray, Gerhard Richter, and Andy Warhol, the collection includes nearly 1,000 works and is one of the most comprehensive contemporary collections in any general museum in the world.
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