This past weekend I was in Philadelphia for a long awaited trip up the famed Rocky steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. My favorite way to explore a museum is to gravitate toward those pieces that move me without a worry of where I need to be next. I knew I wanted to see the Outsider Art exhibit, but after that I went into the Modern and Contemporary wing snaking through galleries of familiar art. I almost turned back when I saw a glimpse of a Cy Twombly (that seemed to me) tucked away from everything else. I went toward it for two reasons: 1) it was an image I recognized but had never seen in person. 2) Cy Twombly has come up a lot in my art life lately, and, honestly, I didn’t get his popularity. (Notice the past-tense of that statement)
I was struck by this image alone. There was something about the frenetic energy in the brushwork that made my pulse quicken. Could this be the same Cy Twombly I discounted in the past? This painting is the introduction to his Fifty Days at Iliam, which is a series of 10 paintings he created using Homer’s The Iliad as inspiration. My curiosity turned to delight as I entered the room. The last time I felt this way about a series of paintings was at the Tate Modern in their Rothko room.
Perhaps that says more about me than the work itself. I enjoy being surrounded by an artist. To see the progression of time and thought and line and image. There was something about the white of the room matching the white backgrounds of Twombly’s canvases mixed with the smell of paint where I felt this calm and chaos all at once. It also helped that I had the room to myself except for one brief moment where a man took one step in with his daughter, exclaimed “I don’t get it; what do people see in this?” and walked out. I couldn’t help but laugh because, until this day, I had felt the same way. I will now go seek out more of Twombly’s work and see if my impression of it has changed. Perhaps I will notice something that I hadn’t previously. Or maybe this room, this series, will be what I take with me when reflecting on his legacy. Either way, I can officially say that I get it. I’m glad his work hangs on the walls of museums. Especially this one. If you find yourself in Philadelphia, meander your way back to gallery 185 and soak it in.