Across the street from the main museum, the eponymous Cy Twombly Gallery houses a body of work that is at once baroque and spare, ancient and modern. Cy Twombly (1928–2011) emerged from the New York art world of the early 1950s, though his approach to painting and sculpture defied affiliation with any predominant movement of the later twentieth century, such as Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, or Minimalism.
Born in Virginia, an avid reader from an early age, and a world traveler as a young man, Twombly found inspiration in ancient Mediterranean history and geography, Greek and Roman mythology, classical literature, and poetry. All of this—the words and ideas and images—he recast in exuberant, sensual canvases; sometimes on an epic scale, in multiple-panel paintings, Twombly created a sometimes-inscrutable world of iconography, metaphor, language, and myth.
A collaboration between the Menil, the Dia Foundation, and the artist himself, the Cy Twombly Gallery that opened in 1995 reflects the depth of this institution's commitment to individual artists and to a standard of presentation that honors the creator's intent as it immerses visitors in a carefully created environment. The works on view in the Cy Twombly Gallery, dating from 1953 to 2004, comprise a veritable retrospective of the artist’s career, including a number of large canvases, sculptural works, and suites of paintings and drawings.
Filtered through a louvered roof and ceilings of white canvas sailcloth, natural light plays softly on the works of art, plaster walls, and white oak floors. Renzo Piano’s second U.S. museum commission began with a design sketched by the artist. The Cy Twombly Gallery is both grand (evoking a palazzo in Italy, Twombly's adopted country, where he worked for decades) and modest (its entrance faces away from the street, toward a great live oak tree on the east lawn). Such opposites are also embodied in the building itself, a stout, stony block whose airy roof the architect and artist likened to a butterfly.