Exploring the Modern Wing: Part 2

Posted in art by Anna on May 29, 2009

This year I celebrated Memorial Day, not by rising at the crack of dawn to suit up in a wool band uniform, as was the case on so many Memorial Days past, but by revisiting the Art Institute’s Modern Wing, where I learned that not only does Cy Twombly have one of the coolest names on record, but he is also able to produce stunningly evocative works, even now, in his early eighties.

Twombly01Twombly’s creations, which serve as the debut exhibit for the Modern Wing, in a show entitled “Cy Twombly: The Natural World (selected work 2000-2007),” are jarring and rich with lush blooming colors which provoke and confront the viewers.  While his work very much addresses the natural world, he uses this theme to ask philosophical questions as well.  One work, in particular, “Untitled” from the series “Peony Blossom Paintings” (2007) evokes the vibrancy of life while simultaneously incorporating suggestions of violence and mortality.  The vast, overpowering painting depicts enormous scarlet peony blossoms that drip wetly like blood that has flown and then clotted thickly on the canvas, leaving the viewer wondering if they’re observing blooms or wounds.  The background, too, is riddled with ambiguity, painted a bright yellow, it could either add a vibrant and sunny optimism to a work already filled with life, or serve as a sickly, jaundiced backdrop for the pre-existing pain of the blossom-wounds.

This kind of muddled passion is equally present in another of Twombly’s work, this one entitled, “Untitled Lexington” (2001).  Not a painting, but a multi-dimensional piece, this work consists of two boxes stacked atop one another, atop which perch paint-drenched, dripping balled up paper towel, implying that this is the artist’s twisted interpretation of a flower box.  Again, contradictions are central to Twombly’s work, as this retro symbol of the fresh, light-hearted spirit of spring appear tainted and mottled by what appear to be randomly placed moldy-looking chunks of plaster.  This aura of decay is bolstered by the crushed nature of the paper-towel-blooms.  Again, by re-interpreting and re-working the natural world, Twombly utilizes contrast by murdering symbols of life and rebirth with splotches, splatters and drips which are reminiscent of American Expressionism

Twombly achieves feelings of life and vibrancy, and destruction and rot simultaneously, asking many valid questions about the relationship between life and death, and the fineness of the line that separates them, and in doing so projects a raw, youthful, rebellious, richness one would never expect from the painterly hands of a man entering his eighties.


Exploring the Modern Wing: Part 1

Posted in art by Anna on May 21, 2009


Earlier this week I had the pleasure of visiting the much-anticipated and recently opened Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago and was pleasantly surprised.  Having recently visited the Walker, a contemporary art museum in Minneapolis rife with oppressively whimsical architectural nuances, such as eight stories of space-wasting split-level stairs and an entire floor wallpapered with Dr. Suessian eyeballs against a coral-pink background, I was relieved to see the Modern Wing veers away from such self-indulgent kookiness.

Rather, it opts for function over fashion, with a palette of bright white and sleek, minimalist lines.  There is a clean, clear, spacious quality to the wing’s smooth glass paneling, linear support poles, light-filtering screens, and high, wide entryways, that allows the space to serve as a canvas for the art, rather than demanding the viewer’s attention with endearing, but distracting, absurdities.  A large part of how the architect, Renzo Piano, is able to turn viewer’s attention to the objects inside his rooms occurs through the illusion of space.  Although the wing houses two shops, a coffee bar, a courtyard, and numerous galleries, his building never feels cluttered, commercialized, or overcrowded.  And although I visited the  day after the wing opened, and the halls were flooded with people, the wide hallways and bright, open lights dissipated the masses.  Crowds are lost in Piano’s sea of light, lines, and angles, as is anything hokey or gimmicky.

The Modern Wing exists not as an egotistical entity, but as a platform for the art it houses.