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, Cy 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; at times epic in scale or on multiple-panels, Twombly created an enigmatic and allusive world of iconography, metaphor, language, and myth.
In the early 1990s, the Menil Collection approached Cy Twombly about a single-artist installation. Taken with the idea, Twombly became intimately involved in both the building and the selection and placement of artworks. 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. Among the works on display are five paintings from 1959, featuring subtle graphic notations on white grounds; the vividly colored Bay of Naples and Triumph of Galatea, both from 1961; three of the so-called “Blackboard” paintings of the late 1960s; five paintings dedicated to German Romantic poet Rainer Maria Rilke from 1985; and the untitled “Green Paintings” that Twombly showed at the 1988 Venice Biennale. An entire room is given over to the artist’s monumental Untitled [Say Goodbye, Catullus, to the Shores of Asia Minor] [A Painting in Three Parts], 1994.