The Photo That Outed Cy Twombly

Horst P. Horst, Cy Twombly, 1966

The Getty Center's "Cy Twombly: Making the Past Present," organized with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, surveys the artist's connection to the ancient Mediterranean. That much is well within the Getty's wheelhouse. At the center of the show is a literal "surprise": a photo that almost wrecked Twombly's career.

Installation view with Horst P. Horst photomural

The exhibition's theatrical set piece is a line-up of Roman portrait heads from Twombly's collection. They are shown against a photo-mural of a 1966 Horst P. Horst image of the artist for Vogue magazine. The Horst, part of a photo essay titled "Roman Classic Surprise," presented the artist as a sort of Talented Mr. Ripley ex-pat in a white suit. Twombly inhabits a villa of artful juxtapositions: white walls and gilded furniture; the classic (in fragments) and contemporary paintings. 

Horst was gay, and Twombly was bisexual at least (notwithstanding the wife, relegated to a room in the distance). Twombly had a well-known affair with Robert Rauschenberg in the early 1950s. Art historian Nicholas Cullinan has argued that the coded gay sensibility of the Vogue images challenged the "macho model established from Picasso to Pollock" and damaged Twombly's American market. It's worth recalling that some had seen Twombly, with his signature chalkboard scribble paintings, as a potential heir to Pollock. Critic Pierre Alexandre De Looz wrote

Twombly had not simply flared the finger of continental privilege by landing in Vogue; he let his whole hand go limp. Whereas Pollock always kept his fists in blistering evidence (think of Hans Namuth’s famous footage), Twombly appeared handless in the published portraits (they’re either pocketed or out of site). No doubt, the most insinuating of these was the title spread: Twombly slouched on a divan, leg propped, wearing white linen and a pouting smile, as a bust of Hadrian, the emperor of sugar daddies, looks on.… Simply put, Twombly had taken on a role deemed acceptable for a gay but distasteful for a serious artist; he had come out as a decorator. 

The Vogue shoot has taken on a fascination of its own. It led to a 2003 publication of Horst's outtakes in nest magazine. Twombly's interior style has been retrospectively seen as an expression of camp and even a precursor to the bedroom scene at the end of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey

Cy Twombly, Thermopylae, 1992. The Menil Collection, Houston (gift of the artist)

The Getty exhibition is said to be the first public showing of Twombly's antiquities. In truth they are more chic than museum-level great. I guess that's OK, as the Horst mural would otherwise be an objectionably busy backdrop.

The best sculpture in the show is Twombly's great bronze Thermopylae from Houston. It refers to the Battle of Thermopylae (pretext for homoerotic treatments by Jacques-Louis David and Frank Romero).

"Cy Twombly: Making the Past Present" is at the Getty Center through Oct. 30, 2022. It moves to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts Jan. 14 to May 7, 2023.

Cy Twombly, Leaving Paphos Ringed with Waves (IV), 2009.  Private collection courtesy Gagosian. (c) Cy Twombly Foundation
Robert Rauschenberg, Cy + Relics, Rome, 1952. Robert Rauschenberg Foundation


Anonymous said…
The cultural-political trends surrounding matters of sexuality, race, gender, religion, ethnicity, nationality, etc - in all fields, in all walks of life - have become so self-conscious and unrelentingly precious, that everyone needs to wear a label that proclaims either "I'm Woke" or "I Need to Become Woke."

That can come with a small image of Andy Warhol's silkscreen paintings of Mao Tse-tung.

Incidentally, the Getty Museum is on land originally occupied by the Gabrieleño, Gabrielino, Kizh and Tongva tribes. The still unfinished Lucas Museum is also on land originally occupied by the Gabrieleño, Gabrielino, Kizh and Tongva tribes.

LACMA, however, since a good portion of it will be suspended above ground under Wilshire Blvd, will be using air rights of the Metropolitan Transit Authority. And lots of cars and buses too.
Anonymous said…
The picture of Twombly is sexy. But how Americans felt that was gay rather than just European is hilarious. As if art was ever a straight masculine endeavor.
Anonymous said…
^^^Art historians have been talking about Picasso's wives, mistresses, and whores for decades.

But if one dares mention the fact that Twombly or Johns had a relationship with a man (Rauschenberg), it's "self-conscious and unrelentingly precious."

Shut the F up!!!
Anonymous said…
There are some remarkable hands in art history:

Constantine's hand at the Capitoline Museums
Socrates's hands in David's The Death of Socrates
Johns's handprints in his coffee can prints
Hands in the act of clutching in various works by Jonas Wood

Johns's handprints undermine the idea that an expressionist/abstract gesture (e.g., cross-hatching) isn't itself an act of evasion.

--- J. Garcin
Anonymous said…
> But if one dares mention the fact that Twombly or Johns had
> a relationship with a man

Who the heck cares what his sexuality was or wasn't? Should we know or care how much was in his bank account? How much real estate he owned? Did he have bad breath or floss his teeth?

How about his politics? As with Pablo Picasso, was Twombly of the left? When it comes to contemporary artists (as opposed to modern ones, such as of the early 20th century in Spain/France), would Twombly resent or accept what John-Michel Basquiat was all about?