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The President and Fellows of Harvard College

Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology

The Cy Twombly Gallery at the Menil Collection: A Conversation

Author(s): Octavio Paz and John Harvey
Source: RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics, No. 28 (Autumn, 1995), pp. 180-183
Published by: The President and Fellows of Harvard College acting through the Peabody Museum of
Archaeology and Ethnology
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180 RES 28 AUTUMN 1995

Figure 1. Cy Twombly, (b. 1929), Untitled, 1971. Graphite, wax/oil crayon, printed reproduction, marking
pen, and transparent tape on two sheets of paper, 33 x 25 in. Photo: Cy Twombly Gallery. Courtesy of The
Menil Collection, Houston.

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The Cy Twombly Gallery at The Menil Collection:
A conversation


During of 6 February 1995, The Cy

the week capture and to express moments of our human
Twombly Retrospective from the Museum of Modern experience. You can see through Cy's early period and
Art, New York, and the new Cy Twombly Gallery onward three things in this vein: variations and unity,
designed by Renzo Piano, opened at The Menil history, and a sensibility to moments, instances from a
Collection in Houston, Texas. In town were Cy particular perception of reality. It is very interesting to

Twombly, Renzo Piano, and Octavio Paz. On 12 see a painter create a space that has a sense of

February, Paz talked briefly of Twombly, Piano, and moments, of time. He conveys many things, but I
his own relationship with the artist's work. believe time is crucial; and these moments of time
A collaboration between Paz and Twombly had evoke moments of memory. The black paintings are
previously taken form in Octavio Paz/Fight Poems, Cy like chalkboards, things of childhood; and this is
Twombly/Ten Drawings (Cologne: Udo & Anette similar to Proust, to his memory of his past life through
Brandhorst, 1993) and Octavio Paz, Cy Twombly the madeleine. Memory functions as the poetic adjunct
(Bonn: Kunstmuseum, 1993). Dinners, discussions, and of the image. Memory provokes image.
letters culminated in Paz's choice of eight poems, lohn Harvey: The opening line of "Fabula," the first
which are not used to illustrate Twombly's work, but poem selected to appear in the collaborative book,
in the words of Christoph Screir, who wrote a catalog speaks of protean moments: time and color in
essay for the Kunstmuseum, they are used to 'provide metamorphosis.
them with poetic variation, so that in the interplay of
Edades de fuego y de aire
image and text, new horizons are revealed." When Mocedades de aqua
asked about his friendshipwith Twombly and the Del verde al amarillo
resulting project, Octavio Paz expressed his Del amarillo al rojo
understanding of Twombly's poetic sensibility. Del sueno a la vigilia
Del deseo al acto2
lohn Harvey^
A precise sense of motion and stillness exists within

Iwas your poetry and Twombly's Gaefa Set (For the Love of
Octavio Paz: and saw all
in Venice
Fire and Water).
[Twombly's] green paintings, and they looked to me as Paz: Ididn't write these poems for him; itwas a
a kind of homage to Monet. Ibegan to think about the
kind of convergence. He was working in Rome and I
paintings and the painter. The seriality of the work was was inMexico, and through various intermediaries we
important, in my view, because self-reference is very
met. Iwant to mention another interesting aspect of
much a part of Cy's definition: in his paintings, each
this painter?his use of words. Some painters use
individual one
is integrated with another?the
words without meaning and only for plastic purposes:
movement and at the same time the moment, which is
ironic, sardonic comments. InCy's case, however, he
very strange because painters work with material
uses words with meaning, as well as fragments of
things. But here is a painter who has a poetic
poems. A collaboration of image and words, not just
sensibility, an intuitive grasp of the instant. In a similar form but also their meaning. It is rather new in modern
way the moment is very important in my own poetry.
painting, and I like it. It a
is courageous way of facing
One of the functions of art, poetry, and painting is to

2. "Ages of fire and air / Tender age of water / From green to

1.We wish to thank G. Alhadeff for her editing of the transcript of yellow / From yellow to red / From sleeping to waking / From desire
this conversation. to action."

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182 RES 28 AUTUMN 1995

the problem of painting. You cannot represent matter and form, but it has ceased to be an image."
allegories anymore, you cannot paint meanings of the You name this an "aesthetic of disembodiment."
sixteenth or seventeenth centuries, or even the Paz: Iwas thinking about the abstract painters who
nineteenth century, but you can do what he's doing: an tried to dissipate the image, to provoke a new reality or
attempt to interrelate the words, the poetic word and sense of reality. Mondrian painted the archetypes of
the visual ?mage. this work. This is not the case with Twombly. On the
Harvey: In your essay "Baudelaire as Art Critic: contrary, he tries to recover life and its appearance, its
Presence and Present" you consider Baudelaire's figure movement, its chance, through the act of painting. He
as that of a "universal translator," transfiguring past and does come from abstraction, in some way, but he
present through metaphor. "The most modern art is the comes from an American branch of expressionism, as
most ancient," you write. separate as that of Jasper Johns and Robert
Paz: The Baudelarian sense of the "universal Rauschenberg. He belongs to the reactions against
translator" applies to Twombly in a very particular and Abstract Expressionists; yet, his reaction is different
definite way. Poetry, and not only poetry but from Johns's and Rauschenberg's. He wants to see. . . .
nature?seasons, vegetation?all of this is transformed, It is very difficult to talk about an artist, always we are
translated into ?mage. It is a movement between the talking about another way of trying to understand a
oral and the visual. Twombly captures this in his secret, and the best thing to do is to be content with
technique, which is new, alluding to the passing of the enigma of the painter; still, with this reservation, I
time. Sometimes you see his inscriptions, figures, and would say that Cy Twombly wants to be able to see
colors as something that time has erased, but not through the image. He wants to be able to see the
entirely; you can see, you can guess, you can imagine. invisible in some ways, so his paintings have to do
Harvey: In the same essay on Baudelaire you write with light. This ismost apparent in the Cy Twombly
"From Baudelaire on, painting thinks but does not Gallery, Renzo Piano's building, and its variations of
speak, is language but does not mean; it is luminous light. Architects have their buildings, painters have their

Figure 2. Cy Twombly, Hyperion (to Keats), 1962. Oil paint, wax crayon,
lead pencil on canvas, 1023/s x 118V8 ?n.Photo: Cy Twombly Gallery,
Houston, gift of the artist.

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Paz: Documents and discussions 183

Figure 3. Cy Twombly, Untitled (Analysis of Roses as Sentimental as

Despair), 1985. Oil on canvas mounted on wooden panel, 99 x IO3V2 ?n.
Photo: Cy Twombly Gallery, Houston, gift of the artist.

palettes. Painters decorated palaces in the Renaissance, American emphasizes the international identity of The
for the great dignitaries of the Catholic Church, for the Menil Collection but also of each of the three artists.
nobility of the time; but now, it is different, buildings Paz: And this art, this artist we are talking about, is
are at the service of paintings. neither American nor European; that is a question for
Harvey: In "Eje," another poem from your past generations, not for new generations, for my
collaboration with Twombly, the voice of the poem generation. Art has become international. This probably
declares "yo hueso de sol," and in another, 'Piedra started at the beginning of the century, with the
Nativa," you write "Lo que no es piedra es luz." Light Cubists. In Paris and in all places the moment was
and stone seem to exist on your page as well as on international. Picasso in Spain, Kandinsky in Russia, the
Twombly's canvas. Abstract Expressionists in the United States changed
Paz: It's dangerous for an artist to talk about his own things; they had many interests and created something
work, but it is true that stone and light appear inmany very particular. It has to do with a sensibility. It is this
periods of my poetry as opposites, although way with Cy, Renzo, and myself. Very strange, you see,
complementary opposites. The stone sometimes is because there are different generations, different
permanence and the light is time, change. So stone is countries between us. Yet, here we are. Some
permeability, yet also something else?matter, matter coincidence.
itself. And light is the transfiguration of matter.
Harvey: Renzo Piano uses the metaphor "a butterfly
alighting on a wall" to describe his architecture of light
and stone in the Cy Twombly Gallery. This aesthetic
meeting point between an Italian, a Mexican, and an

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