To celebrate Cy Twombly's eightieth birthday the Galleria nazionale d'arte moderna e contemporanea (or GNAM for short) is hosting a major retrospective of the American born artist (first shown at the Tate Modern in London last summer and curated by the Tate's director Nicholas Serota). In spite of the fact that he has lived in Italy for over fifty years this is the first large retrospective of his work in this country making it one of the must-see shows of the season for anybody interested in contemporary art. Featuring over 70 works including paintings, sculptures and drawings, the Tate show was originally subtitled Cycles and Seasons – an apt title, which seems to have disappeared on route to Rome, for an exhibition which takes us on an exhaustive journey through the very long productive life of one of the world's most celebrated and exciting living artists.
I'm a huge admirer of Twombly and was lucky enough to catch the Tate show on my last trip back to the UK so I was thrilled to see it again here in Rome. The Tate Modern is an extraordinary exhibition space and the huge canvases looked wonderful there but the GNAM show is also hung extremely well - the two long and very large versions of the minimalist paintings Treatise on the Veil from 1968 and 1970 look wonderful positioned either end of the largest space in the gallery, as do another pair of 1971 paintings created in tribute to the late Nini Pirandello, which are also facing each other across the gallery. Curiously, the Rome show begins with Twombly's most recent works and the viewer is greeted with the dazzling blood red Bacchus – the painting which closed the London show.
Twombly is a painter whose work really needs to be seen and experienced and reproductions alone can't prepare the viewer for the sheer scale of the paintings, or the dynamism and variety of brush strokes and thickness of paint – either so dense it cracks or so thin it appears like a veil over elements of calligraphy, real words, poetry or scribbles. The four paintings representing the Quattro Stagioni, or Four Seasons, embody all of the above elements and are reason enough to visit this show!
Cy Twombly at GNAM runs until 24 May 2009
Galleria nazionale d'arte moderna
Viale delle Belle Arti, 131
00196 Roma, Italia
Tel. 0039 06 322981