The late Cy Twombly will be forever remembered as a legend among modern artists, celebrated for the expressiveness and poetic allusions of his painting. But at Gagosian’s Grosvenor Hill location in London, Cy Twombly: Sculpture focuses on a body of the artist’s work that’s been relatively under the radar. So much so that it’s the first time Twombly’s sculptures will ever be exhibited in the U.K. Experts estimate that from 1946, at the age of 18, Twombly made 148 sculptures in total, largely from ordinary materials like wood and string. “He certainly saw them as an extension of his work on canvas and paper, tackling the same themes,” says Gagosian director and exhibition curator Mark Francis. In both painting and sculpture, “he used a classical motif to meditate upon universal concerns such as conflict, threat, and mortality.”
Where Twombly’s known fascination with the mythologies and graffiti of the ancient world shows through the titles and mark-making techniques in his paintings, this show of sculptures makes allusions in three dimensions. References to ancient battles appear in the form of chariot-like sculptures made from the simplest parts—thin discs for wheels held together with wooden sticks. Another work that resembles fallen columns is named Batrachomyomachia, after the story of a battle between mice and frogs that parodies Homer’s Iliad. But there’s more: A stack of three geometric blocks named after the Afghani city of Herat looks to be tagged with yellow spray paint.
The gallery is full of found objects, including wooden boxes, the handle of an ax, and bundles of sticks tied with string, that for decades Twombly had assembled into totem-like compositions. He would cast his assemblages in bronze, coat them in an artificial patina of plaster mixed with sand, or cover them in layers of white paint in order to mimic the texture and finish of antiquity. “White paint is my marble,” he once said.
The Gagosian exhibition starts at 1977, just after the artist had taken a 17-year sculpting hiatus to focus on drawing and painting. “Twombly’s sculptures were a really pivotal part of his practice,” says Francis, but relatively unseen, he surmises, “because he kept many of the originals of the bronze and resin casts in his private collection.” For many, the discovery of Twombly’s sculptures provides a brand new insight into a much-admired artist’s body of work.