Cy Twombly

ILLUSTRIOUS AND UNKNOWN: this was what Degas aspired to be, and what Cy Twombly has become. His imposing reputation has an aura of myth and ambiguity, for reasons that have partly to do with the elusiveness of the artist himself (residing abroad and protective of his privacy), but more to do with the singularity of his art. Twombly first came to prominence in the later 1950s, when his graffiti like pencilwork appeared to subvert Abstract Expressionism. Yet he then sustained painterly abstraction through a time in the 1960s when the imagery of mass culture and the certainties of geometry seemed destined to kill it off. While linked by generational ties and friendship to Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, he has suffered from the fact that unlike theirs, his work – with no bold graphic or photographic imagery – tells little in reproduction, and provides no convenient entrance into Pop art. The elements of ironic realism in their art have been considered progressive and in tune with postmodern sensibilities, but Twombly’s unique combination of bare astringency and sensual indulgence has proved harder to confine within such tidy generalizations. He has further distanced himself from his contemporaries by embracing the classical past and reaching for epic narrative in an era when such models appeared wholly derelict. In addition, his work has often sought its own poetics by invoking the heritage of literature, during a long period in which “literary” was a term of condemnation. These commitments, and their author, have never found a ready niche in accounts of the progress of art since 1950. The countless paperbacks and catalogues that have canonized the line of artists from Pollock to Warhol as the mainstream of American art’s postwar ascendancy have typically neglected Twombly rather than contend with the ways his inclusion might disrupt that story’s flow. A fellow artist already saw the problem in 1955: “[Twombly’s] originality,” he said, “is being himself. He seems to be born out of our time, rather than into it.”

That assessment cannot satisfy: no person has such autonomy, and clearly Twombly’s art is specifically contemporary. Efforts to link him to the art of his time have left us, though, with an oddly piecemeal fabric of interpretations – one which only now, in the mid 1990s, appears to be assuming enough breadth and density to wrap the complex achievements of the work itself Over almost three decades, Twombly has been repeatedly “rediscovered” by American critics, in various ways. The white on grey paintings he made in the late 1960s were welcomed as having an anti-sensual, cerebral spareness that related them to Minimalism and Conceptual art; and the fascination with linguistic models of criticism focused special attention on the play of marking, writing, and schematic figuration in his work. Then, more important, American awareness of European contemporary art expanded: in the 1970s a sharpened focus on the art of JosephBeuys concerned with grand myth and history, but also esoterically personal and tied to a bodily animism began a reorientation that favored Twombly in other ways; and the advent of a new painterly expressionism in the 1980s, in artists as diverse as Anselm Kiefer and Francesco Clemente, further catalyzed a fresh assessment of his importance.

More recently a fraught concern with sexuality has appeared among contemporary artists whose anti-formal expressivity and candor about the body has opened still another avenue into Twombly’s complex achievement. As did the earlier frames of reference (Abstract Expressionism, Neo Dada, Minimal and Conceptual art, Neo Expressionism, and so on), this one can help us see valid aspects of the work. Taken in sequence, however, each of these terms has tended to exclude or ignore the others, and none accounts for the presence within Twombly’s art of all these, and more, contradictory climates of feeling. Offhand impulsiveness and obsessive systems; the defiling urge toward what is base and the complementary love for lyric poetry and the grand legacy of high Western culture; written words, counting systems, geometry, ideographic signs, and abstract fingerwork with paint all ask to be understood in concert.

In that complexity, this art has proved influential among artists, discomfiting to many critics, and truculently difficult not just for a broad public, but for sophisticated initiates of postwar art as well. It will almost certainly continue to defy ready acceptance by a wide audience, as its particular impact depends so strongly on the kind of direct response to physical presence that is resistant to verbalization and uncongenial to analysis. In the extensive literature on Twombly, many sensitive writers and acute theoreticians have already grappled with that difficulty, in efforts to capture poetically the seductive force of his work, and to analyze its singular aesthetic structure


Biography of Lucio Fontana

Ideas are not scorned, they germinate in society and are then expressed by philosophers and artists
(from the Manifesto Blanco, Buenos Aires, 1946)

Lucio Fontana was born in Rosario in the Santa Fé region of Argentina on 19th February 1899. His Italian father, Luigi, who had lived in Argentina for ten years, was a sculptor, and his mother, Lucia Bottino, also of Italian origin, was a theatre actress. When he was six years old, he went with his father to Milan to attend school. By 1910 he had already begun his artist’s apprenticeship in his father’s workshop. He later enrolled in a school for Master Builders, before leaving to enlist as a volunteer in the First World War. Wounded, and discharged with a silver medal for military bravery, he took up his studies again and obtained his diploma. In 1921, he returned to Argentina, and began working as a sculptor in his father’s workshop in Rosario. He later opened his own studio in the same city. Between 1925 and 1927, he won several competitions, and produced, amongst other things, the monument to Juana Blanco.



He returned to Milan in 1928 to enrol in the 1st course at the Brera Academy as a student of Adolf Wildt. At the end of the year, he was moved up to the fourth level. In the meantime, he took part in exhibitions and competitions in Italy, Spain and Argentina. In 1930 he met Teresita Rasini, whom he was later to marry. Moving freely between figurative and abstract, his sculpture in terracotta and clay, with and without colour, gradually acquired greater freedom and individuality. During these crucial years for his artistic development, he gained increasing recognition from leading critics including Argan, Belli, Persico and Morosini and took part in the Milan Triennial, the Venice Biennial and the Rome Quadrennial. He also held several exhibitions at the Milione Gallery and began working in ceramics, first at Albisola and then in 1937 at the Sèvres Factory, where he completed several small sculptures which he exhibited and sold in Paris. By this time he was working closely with avant-garde architects. In early 1940 he settled in Buenos Aires and worked feverishly, winning numerous sculpture competitions. Professor of sculpture at the School of Fine Arts, in 1946 he got together with others to set up a private art school called the Academy of Altamira, which was to become an important centre for the promotion of culture. It was here that, in constant contact with young artists and intellectuals, he formulated his theories on artistic research, which would lead to the publication of the Manifesto Blanco.
On returning to Milan in April 1947, Fontana founded the Movimento spaziale (Spatial Movement) and, together with other artists and intellectuals, published the Primo Manifesto dello Spazialismo (First Manifesto of Spatialism). He went back to working as a ceramist in Albisola and resumed his collaboration with architects. The following year saw the publication of the Secondo Manifesto dello Spazialismo (Second Manifesto of Spatialism). In 1949 he exhibited L’ambiente spaziale a luce nera (The spatial environment in black light) at the Naviglio Gallery, which sparked both enthusiasm and outcry. In the same year, he came up with his most original invention when, perhaps inspired by his origins as a sculptor and in search of a third dimension, he produced his first paintings in which he perforated the canvasses. In 1950 he published the Terzo manifesto spaziale. Proposta per un regolamento (Third Spatial Manifesto. A Proposal for Regulation). In 1951, at the Ninth Triennial, where he was the first person to use neon as an art form, he wrote his Manifesto tecnico dello Spazialismo (Technical Manifesto of Spatialism). In 1952 he took part in a competition for the Fifth Door of the Cathedral of Milan and was joint winner with Minguzzi. In the same year, he and other artists signed the Manifesto del Movimento Spaziale per la Televisione (Manifesto of the Spatial Movement for Television), and he exhibited his completed spatial works at the Naviglio Gallery in Milan. Again prompting both enthusiasm and shock, Fontana was no longer limiting himself to making holes in canvasses, but was also painting them and applying colours, inks, pastels, collages, sequins and fragments of glass. By now he had gained international acclaim. In 1957, a series of works on linen paper featured not only the holes and graffiti but also the first hints of the cuts which would be fully expressed the following year. These included canvasses with a number of coloured cuts to monochrome canvasses entitled Concetto spaziale (Spatial Concept) and Attesa (Wait). He took part in numerous exhibitions and international displays and his work was purchased by museums, galleries and the most respected collectors. A man of enormous generosity, Fontana was always ready to help young artists even when he lacked the material means. He encouraged them, bought their works and gave them his own, even though he knew they would usually be sold straight away. During those years, as well as making iron sculptures on stems, Fontana made a series of works in terracotta, known as Nature, spherical shapes with wide lacerations and gashes. He also continued to produce large and small format ceramics and collaborated with eminent architects on “environnement” works entitled Ambiente spaziale (Spatial Environment) in which he used light as an innovative element with a technique later to be adopted by other artists. In the sixties, Fontana devoted his attention to a series of oval oil paintings, all in the same format, monochrome and perforated with numerous holes and slashes, and sometimes sprinkled with sequins, called Fine di Dio (The End of God). He returned to the same subject in 1967 with a series of ellipses on lacquered wood with brilliant colours, unique works created to his design. Between 1964 and 1966 he invented Teatrini: frames made of modelled and lacquered wood containing monochrome perforated canvasses. He did not, however, abandon the “cuts”, which he continued to use until the end of his life. In 1966, the international jury of the 33rd Venice Biennial awarded him first prize for painting for his white room, featuring white canvasses each with a single vertical slash. After leaving Milan and moving back to the old farmhouse he had had restored in Comabbio, his family’s town of origin, he died on 7th September 1968. The presence of Fontana’s works in the permanent collections of more than a hundred museums worldwide further testifies to the importance of his art.


Art worth $160 million stolen

Only scratches remain on the white walls where the four Impressionist masterpieces once hung. No metal detectors, no armed guards, no cameras were in sight Tuesday, underscoring just how vulnerable many of Europe’s small museums are to thieves enticed by soaring art prices.

The robbers who carried out one of Europe’s most dramatic art heists are likely criminals with no art expertise or understanding of how difficult it is to sell such famous paintings, experts said Tuesday. The stolen works by Cezanne, Degas, van Gogh and Monet are worth $163.2 million.

Karl-Heinz Kind, an art theft expert at Interpol, said part of the problem is the appeal of museums like the E.G. Buehrle Collection, with its accessibility and atmosphere encouraging reflection and appreciation.

“A museum or a church is not made to be a prison,” Kind said in a telephone interview from Lyon, France, where Interpol has its headquarters.

“You can imagine screening luggage or clothes under machines, or X-raying them. You could imagine in churches or cathedrals to put the statues of saints behind iron bars. That would certainly increase security. But is it really the purpose of a museum?”

A reproduction of Vincent van Gogh’s painting “Blossoming Chestnut Branches,” one of four paintings stolen Sunday, Feb. 10, 2008, from the private museum E.G. Buehrle Collection, in Zurich, Switzerland. Image courtesy of the Foundation E.G. Buehrle Collection

Marco Cortesi of the Zurich police noted the robbery Sunday took less than three minutes, carried out by gunmen in ski masks who burst into the museum just before closing time. While one trained a pistol on museum personnel ordered to lie on the floor, two others collected the paintings and sped off with them.

“In Europe we just didn’t have to plan for such an attack on a museum,” Cortesi said.

The Buehrle’s security included burglar alarms to protect against break-ins during the night and an alarm system that sounded at the police station if a picture was moved. But that was clearly not enough.

“The museum has state-of-the-art security against theft, but not against armed robbery,” said museum director Lukas Gloor as he showed reporters the collection, one of Europe’s finest for 19th century and 20th century art.

Gloor said the museum was reconsidering its security, including limiting visits to groups by prior arrangement. But he said he feared going too far.

“I see the intimate character that we used to have in this house threatened,” he said.

But no matter what measures the museum imposes, it will probably be easier for criminal to target art than to hold up a bank, which is “better protected, with guards carrying guns, than a small museum would be,” said Kind.

Experts dismissed any suggestion the robbers knew what they were doing, saying they appeared to be opportunists looking for easy pickings and unaware it is virtually impossible to sell such famous works.

Kind referred to some of the biggest art heists in recent years, such as the robbery of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” and “Madonna” from the Munch Museum in Norway in 2004, and a Leonardo da Vinci painting from a castle in Scotland in 2003. Those works were recovered.

“The robbers were successful in the first part of their job: to get possession of the paintings or the other works of art,” he said. “But they faced enormous — and perhaps unexpected — difficulties in realizing the second part: making money out of it.”

“As a consequence, they had to make repeated contacts to prospective buyers. And that is, of course, more chances for the police to get in. All these cases have been solved because of that. Because they did not find a buyer, they ended up with police,” he said.

The Art Loss Register, which maintains the world’s largest database on stolen, missing and looted art, has recovered over $300 million worth of stolen works since it began in 1991. Julian Radcliffe, the founder and chairman, said most thieves either try to negotiate a ransom or attempt to resell the art, which often gets them caught.

The image of a wealthy collector with an underground gallery full of stolen art is only “a figment of the imagination of film directors,” Radcliffe said.

Most recoveries by the Art Loss Register have involved underworld criminal activity where the art was exchanged for drugs or money, he said.

By the time someone attempts to sell stolen art, it has often passed through many hands, sometimes over many years, he said. In some situations, a work is recovered when the owner dies and his or her children check in with dealers to see whether it is worth anything.

Kind said criminals rarely know the value of the art they steal, underscoring their ignorance by rolling up canvases together, smashing frames or otherwise damaging the pieces.

Gloor said the thieves on Sunday went straight to the Grand Hall containing some of the collection’s most valuable paintings.

They grabbed the first four they came to — apparently all they could carry. While those included the museum’s prize, Paul Cezanne’s “Boy in the Red Waistcoat,” worth $90 million, they left behind the second-most-valuable painting in the room — Cezanne’s “Self Portrait with Palette,” insured for $80 million.

The other stolen works were Claude Monet’s “Poppy field at Vetheuil,” Edgar Degas'”Ludovic Lepic and his Daughter,” and Vincent van Gogh’s “Blooming Chestnut Branches.”

Cortesi said police have received a number of tips, but so far had no concrete leads. Authorities have yet to solve a smaller theft last week of two Picassos from nearby Pfaeffikon, and were investigating if the incidents were connected.

The FBI estimates the stolen art market at $6 billion annually, and Interpol has about 30,000 pieces of stolen art in its database. While only a fraction of that is ever recovered, such thefts are rare because of intense police investigations and the difficulty of selling the works.

Henry Fuseli (1741-1825)

Although not abstract, a very great painter worthy of a spot on my blog, and Happy Birthday to him.

Swiss painter, poet, critic, and teacher, a fervent admirer of Shakespeare, who spent most of his active career in England. Fuseli has often been regarded as a forerunner of the Romantic art movement and a precursor of Symbolism and Surrealism. His most famous painting is The Nightmare (1781), in which an ape-like goblin sits on a young woman, who is sleeping in a strained posture.

John Henry Fuseli - The Nightmare.JPG

The only man that ever I knew
Who did not make me almost spew
Was Fuseli: he was both Turk and Jew –
And so, dear Christian Friends, how do you do?
(William Blake’s tribute to Fuseli)

Henry Fuseli was born Johann Heinrich Füssli in Zürich into a family of artists and writers. His father was the portrait painter and art historian Johannes Kaspar Füssli. Although Fuseli’s brothers and sisters became artists, his father directed him towards priesthood. He studied theology at Caroline College in Zurich, where he was taught by Professor J.J. Bodmer, an early promoter of the Sturm und Drang movement in Switzerland. Later Fuseli portrayed him an a work entitled The Painter in Conversation with Johann Jakob Bodmer (1778-81).

Fuseli was ordained a Zwinglian clergyman in 1761. Next year, in consequence of a pamphlet, in which he attacked Felix Grebel, the corrupted administration of a magistrate, he had to leave Zurich. Fuseli’s fellow-polemicist, the theologian Johann Casper Lavater, later descibed his energetic friend: “His spirits are hurricane, his servants flames of fire. He goes on the wings of the wind. His laugh is the mockery of Hell, and his love a murderous lightning flash.” Fuseli traveled through Germany, and spent then much time in Berlin. There worked on a German translation of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s Letters, which was published in 1763. Lavater and Fuseli remained friends. Fuseli’s translation of Lavater’s Aphorisms on Man appeared in 1788. He also illustrated the original German and French editions of Lavater’s Physiognomical Fragments.

In 1764, Fuseli went to London to work as a translator of French, German, and Italian books. At the age of twenty-four, he translated into English Reflections on the Painting and Sculpture of the Greeks by the German Neo-Classical theorist J.J. Winkelmann. However, Fuseli did not become Winkelmann’s follower. He also admired another great intellectual figure of the time, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whom he met, but eventually broke with his ideas. Fuseli’s book on the French philosopher, Remarks on the Writing and Conduct of J. J. Rousseau, was published anonymously in 1767.

Fuseli was an active writer until 1768 without much success. Because he could not support himself by his pen, he served as a traveling tutor to the young Lord Chewton, a work which he did not like and which was much against his temperement. Fuseli had “the wildness of the warrior”, as Lavater said, and a punch-up ended eventually his appointment. On the advice of the famous portrait painter Joshua Reynolds (1723-92), who encouraged Fuseli to devote himself to painting, he went in 1770 to Rome for eight years. There he abandoned Winkelmann’s refined aestheticism-“noble simplicity and quiet grandeur” just was not his program. Fuseli taught himself, mainly by copying Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel and drawing from antique sculptures. Among Fuseli’s most haunting works dealing with antique is The Artist in Despair over the Magnitude of Antique Fragments (1778-80), in which only a hand, pointing upwards, and a foot, have remained from a colossal statue (of Constantine the Great). Although Fuseli’s technique was highly personal and experimental, his choice of themes influenced so much the other foreign artists in Rome, that he became virtually the leader of a school of painting. His circle included Alexander and John Runciman, the Swedish sculptor Johan Tobias Sergel, the English artist Thomas Banks, and the Danish painter Nicolas Abildgaard. “There is living in Rome a noble German from Zurich, Henry Fuseli,” wrote Johann Herder in 1774 in a letter to Johann Hamann, “a genius like a mountain torrent, a worshipper of Shakespeare, and now, Shakespeare’s painter.”

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

On his return to Zurich Fuseli painted The Oath of the Ruttli (1779-81), which was destined for the Town Hall. After his romance with Lavater’s niece Anna Landolt failed, he left in 1779 for London. It is though that his best-known scene, The Nightmare, refers to this affair. A young woman is mounted by a demonic looking incubus; the monster literally is a burden on her heart. She lies in a sprawl, with her arm hanging down. A horse, the “night mare” gazes through the curtains with phosphorescent eyes, observing or leering. It has remained a puzzle, whose nightmare Fuseli portrays-it cannot be the woman’s because she is part of the scene herself. It has been said, that the picture is an revenge for an unfulfilled desire, ultimately perhaps a manifestation of a jealous passion, in which the strange lover of the woman is reduced into a monster. The work became so popular that Fuseli painted several other versions on request. One version of The Nightmare was published in Erasmus Darwin’s poem The Botanic Garden (1789-91). In France, The Nightmare inspired Charles Nodier’s fantasy story Smarra, ou Les Démons de la nuit (1821). Fuseli himself was careful not to be tempted by “fancy” and the unknown, but believed in the possible, the probable, and the known-“our ideas are the offspring of our senses,” he once said. A Sleeping Woman and the Furies (1821) took the sexual undertones even further. Now the woman is half-naked and her figure suggest that she has been violated. Another cruel fantasy was Wolfram Looking at his Wife, whom he has Imprisoned with the Corpse of her Lover (1812-20). From these and other works it has been concluded, that Fuseli was a misogynist and he feared and loathed dominant women.

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

In 1788 Fuseli married Sophia Rawlins, whom he used as a model in a number of erotic and macabre paintings. In Mrs. Fuseli Seated by a Fireplace (1799) she was also referred in the figure of the feared Medusa; the sight of her head turned all living things into stone. The early feminist Mary Godwin (Wollstonecraft), whose portrait Fuseli painted, planned a trip with him to Paris, but after Sophia’s intervention the Fuselis door was closed to her forever. “I hate clever women,” Fuseli once said, “they are only troublesome.” Fuseli’s ‘Milton Gallery’, which was exhibited in 1799, was a financial failure. Fuseli also illustrated Dante, Spenser’s Faerie Queen, Nordic myths and legends, the Niebelungenlied, medieval poems, and fairy tales.

However, at the beginning of his career, he was most attracted to the plays of William Shakespeare. For him Shakespeare was “the supreme master of passions and the ruler of our hearts”. As a teenager he had translated Macbeth into German. In the 1760s Fuseli had seen the famous actor David Garrick in the role of Macbeth and produced a watercolor portraying Macbeth and Lady Macbeth after the murder of Duncan. Later he returned to this play in several paintings in which the figures are surrounded by mysterious darkness, among them Macbeth conculting the vision of the Armed Head, painted for the Shakespeare Gallery in Dublin. The faces of the three sisters in the work were modelled on the face of his old mentor, Johann Jakob Bodmer. His other favorite works included Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, for which he produced numerous sequences. From 1786, Fuseli contributed actively to Boydell’s ‘Shakespeare Gallery’. Fuseli had read Shakespeare’s plays so thoroughly that he supposedly was able to recollect any passage that was quoted.

For the Analytical Review Fuseli started to write in 1788 essays and reviews. With Thomas Paine, William Godwin, Joseph Priestley, Erasmus Darwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, and other men and women interested in art, literature and politics, Fuseli frequented the home of Joseph Johnson, a publisher and prominent figure in radical British political and intellectual life. When Louis XVI was executed in France in 1793, he condemned the revolution as despotic and anarchic, although he had first welcomed it as a sign of “an age pregnant with the most gigantic efforts of character.” In 1799 he was appointed professor of painting at the Royal Academy, and keeper of the Academy in 1804. Among his pupils were John Constable (1776-1837), the major English landscape painter of his time, Benjamin Robert Haydon (1786-1846), William Etty (1787-1849), and Edwin Landseer (1802-73), who first exhibited at the age of twelve. William Blake, who was sixteen years his junior, recognized a debt to him, and for a time many English artist copied his mannerisms.

Fuseli died on April 16, 1825, at the Countess of Guilford’s country residence at Putney Hill. He was buried at St Paul’s Cathedral, near to Sir Joshua Reynolds. After Fuseli’s death, Sophia burned many of the erotic drawings, which were not meant for the art audience. Fuseli’s work fell mostly into neglect. His reveries inspired Edgar Allan Poe’s short story ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’, but it was not until the 20th century when his surrealistic works were rediscovered. Among his admirers was H.P. Lovecraft, who confessed that “Fuseli really brings a shiver while a cheap ghost-story frontispiece merely makes us laugh.” The Nightmare probably inspired also Salvador Dali’s painting Invisible Sleeping Woman, Horse, Lion (1930).

Fuseli’s works drew from Neoclassic harmony and narrative clarity, Romantic eroticism, and Mannerist distortions. The gestures and movement of his figures were exaggerated, as if they were actors on a stage. Male bodies have oversteressed muscles; they are men of action, not thinkers. Fuseli himself was an avid theatergoer, which perhaps explains also some of his most dramatic light effects.

There is a peculiar disparity between what Fuseli painted and what he wrote about his art. The great name of German Romanticism, Casper David Friedrich (1774-1840) fully accepted the split between the inner and outer vision. “Follow unconditionally the voice of your inner self,” was his doctrine, “because this is the divine in us, and it does not lead us astray.” Fuseli’s Lectures on Painting (1801-30), originally given at the Royal Academy in London, followed the traditional juxtaposition between the history of ancient and “modern” art, without giving a view into his inner thoughts. However, Fuseli’s studio was furnished in the style of his paintings. When his pupil Benjamin Robert Haydon visited it, he was amazed by its “Galvanized devils-malicious witches brewing their incantations-Satan bringing Chaos, and springing upward like a pyramid of fire-Lady Macbeth-Paolo and Francesca-Falstraff and Mrs Quickly-humour, pathos, terror, blood and murder met one at every look! I expected the floor to give way-I fancied Fuseli himself to be a giant.”

Fuseli’s ghostly and frightening subject-matter was a visual continuum of the Gothic novel, which developed an aesthetics of terror and horror, was occupied with dreams and the unconscious, and often looked back to the feudal world. Fuseli once said, that “one of the most unexplored regions of art are dreams and what may be called the personification of sentiments.” However, Fuseli himself showed little interest in dreams and inner workings of the psyche, with one exception-like the Romantic writers of the younger generation, Thomas De Quincey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Fuseli used opium.