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Cy Twombly

Painter, sculptor, draughtsman, and printmaker Cy Twombly (1928 – 2011) was a leading figure in post-war American abstract art. A peer and friend of fellow Black Mountain College artists, musicians and performers, Twombly fits within the canon of the influential generation of artists shaped by the school. His work distinguishes itself from that of his peers’ by marking its roots in a deep interest in ancient and classical themes, as well as a focus on the singular expressiveness of the line in both written and abstract form. Twombly’s calligraphic, scribbled works have become hallmarks of the American abstract movement.

Although Twombly’s printed oeuvre is noticeably smaller than many well known contemporary artists such as  Robert Rauschenberg or Jasper Johns, the printmaking medium played an important role in Twombly’s artistic development. Though his first print was produced in 1952, he did not work in the medium again until the late 1960s’, which marked the beginning of his only productive decade in terms of printmaking. During this period, Twombly worked across most traditional printmaking techniques, including etching, lithography, aquatint, screenprinting and mezzotint.

It was at Rauschenberg’s encouragement that Twombly first visited the Universal Limited Arts Editions and created his first professionally editioned prints. These prints are an extension of Twombly’s investigation in the role of chance and unplanned outcomes in his artistic process. In his early etchings at ULAE, he utilized an open bite process that is known to be impossible to control. In this way, Twombly exercised various printing techniques in an exploration of his interest in inpredictability, as well as the suggestive qualities of the graphic line.

After his initial interest in prints at ULAE, Twombly turned his attention to lithography, which reflected a shift in his aesthetic interest in the late 1960s and early 1970s. By the mid-1970s, he began to incorporate references to literature and imagery of vegetation and organic shapes in his work, thus moving away from pure abstraction. In the late 1970s, Twombly printed output dramatically decreased, before ultimately tapering off entirely as he turned his attention to other artistic ventures.

In 2022, Twombly's work was the focus of the Getty Center's Making Past Present: Cy Twombly, an exhibition that put the artist's œuvre in conversation with ancient Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Near Eastern art; the exhibition travelled to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in 2023. Twombly’s work has also been featured in solo and group exhibitions at the Musée du Louvre-Lens (2019), Bundeskunsthalle Bonn (2019), Sursock Museum (2018), Metropolitan Museum of Art (2018), Museum of Cycladic Art (2017), British Museum (2017), Museum of Modern Art (2017), Museum Brandhorst (2016), Museu d’Art Contemporani (2016), Centre Georges Pompidou (2016), Musée Rodin (2016), Pinakothek der Moderne (2016), Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (2015), Leopold Museum (2015), Kunsthaus Zürich (2015), Grand Palais (2015) and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (2015).

Twombly’s work is in numerous prominent museum collections, including the Albertina Museum, AT; Art Institute of Chicago, IL; Broad Museum, CA; Brooklyn Museum, NY; Centre Pompidou, FR; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, CA; Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, ES; Hamburger Bahnhof, DE; J. Paul Getty Museum, CA; Kunsthaus Zurich, CH; Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, KR; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; Menil Collection, TX; Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; Moderna Museet, SE; Museum of Modern Art, NY; Morgan Library & Museum, NY; MMuseum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, AT; Musée du Louvre, FR; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, ES; Museu Berardo, PT; Museum Ludwig, DE; Museum of Contemporary Art, CA; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; National Galleries of Scotland, UK; National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; National Museum of Art, Osaka, JP; Rhode Island School of Design Museum, RI; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY; Stedelijk Museum, NL; Tate Gallery, UK and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

In 2017, Schirmer Mosel published a bilingual German-English catalogue raisoné of Twombly’s prints, edited by Heiner Bastian.
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