A dandy piece by Rosalind Krauss on reading, or not reading, Twombly. It was written for Artforum in 1994 about the catalogue raisonne of Twombly's works, overseen by Heiner Bastian. Krauss writes about the various projects that assign meaning to Twombly's paintings from those who take the classical references, such as Virgil scrawled across a canvas, as evidence of Twombly's classical humanism and a deep reading of the deep past, to Barthes, who throws all that out and speaks against analogy in Twombly's mark making, where 'Virgil' is a citation running against any sort of classical reference, and is instead a position, modern, cultural, irresponsible.
Krauss writes instead about graffiti — 'performative, suspending representation in favour of action', which is what Action Painting wanted: all emotion and gesture. She writes that 'graffiti's character is the strike against form, ensuring a field in which the only way the image of the body can survive is a part-object, a concatenation of obscene emblemata...' There are marks, but they aren't symbols, ciphers or citations, rather they are fragments that protest the self-reflexivity of his Abstract Expressionist peer group, Pollock, de Kooning and Motherwell.
Twombly has a writing hand. The work from the 1950s, yesterday's Poems to the Sea, is perhaps a protest against the vigorous, obliterating masculinity of Motherwell, but it became how he made his marks. By time he had appointed Bastian to assemble essays for the catalogue raisonne, the summary of an artist's life, he quite liked the idea that he was a channel to Apollo and Dionysus. One might, towards the end of one's career find it more noble than being a thirty-year old artist working through artistic differences with one's friends in New York.
Rosalind Krauss, always true to the work, restates the critic's responsibility to make an independent reading. I love her for this.
I looked up Sesostris, whose coronation we are presented with, above, and found this sculpture, below.
I would say that in Twombly's Sesostris we are looking at a crown. A fragment of a sculpture. Sesostris III has departed.
Rosalind Krauss. 'Cy was here; Cy's up'. Artforum International Magazine, September 1994