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Twombly Beats Picasso?

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I’m not holding my breath waiting for the NGA to answer my question about the cost of their latest acquisition.

Back in 1993 or 1994, I wrote a piece about a Cy Twombly piece that they had acquired and then inquired as to its total cost. My piece ended up getting picked up by a couple of newspapers, including the Washington Post, and it received quite a bit of publicity. I then asked the NGA via letter for the cost of the Twombly acquisition. Ten years later I am still waiting for an answer.

Here’s that piece just for fun (if you are a Twombly fan: my apologies for MY opinion about his work):

Twombly over Picasso? The National Gallery of Art’s latest acquisition of an exceedingly boring painting by Virginia painter Cy Twombly succinctly brings to light a perfect example of the sort of poor decisions made in the seclusion of museum walls which exemplify why the general public is often at odds with our arts intelligentsia.

BolsenaCy Twombly’s “Untitled (Bolsena)” was acquired on Friday the 13th of October by the National Gallery of Art at a cost of about one million dollars. The gallery’s Collector’s Committee also considered a Picasso, a Giacometti and a Baselitz before choosing the Twombly painting, which was aptly described by Washington Post art critic Paul Richards as “evoking the butt-end days of New York action painting. Or a wall besides a public pay phone.”

Although it is clear that the Twombly piece will now join the National Gallery’s ever growing “Gee, Mom, I can do that!” collection of art, what isn’t clear is the rationale for picking Twombly over Picasso or Giacometti. It has been said that Twombly’s main claim to fame is his early associations with Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg; if this is his main springboard into the walls of the National gallery, then it is clear to me that a pathetic mistake has been made by the gallery’s Collectors Committee. As a matter of fact one would be hard pressed to pick a Johns or a Rauschenberg over a Picasso!

A new Picasso acquisition would have brought the National Gallery some more public interest, and a price tag of a million dollars seems almost a bargain for perhaps the greatest painter of all time. Whatever his detractors, Picasso is a recognized entity which would attract people who both like and dislike his work. I suspect Twombly’s “champions” are not enough to prevent this latest acquisition from being ridiculed by the public and dismissed by the critics.

It is also clear that the piece was vastly overpriced, as a similar Twombly sold less than two weeks ago in New York for $167,000. It would be interesting to see in which basement of the National Gallery this scrawling will gather dust in a few years. When it is put into storage, I hope it is well marked as a piece of art, or it may accidentally resurface on a wall next to a pay phone at the Smithsonian Metro Station.

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