Cy Twombly Gallery

The Cy Twombly Gallery, opened in 1995, is the second building by architect Renzo Piano’s on the Menil’s campus. Cy Twombly (1928-2011) was an American artist who spent much of his life working in Italy. He was intimately involved with the design and layout of the nine-gallery structure, which presents a retrospective of the artist’s paintings and sculptures. The plan has its roots in a sketch he made—and the selection and placement of artworks.

The proportions and color of the concrete blocks and the single-stepped base on which they rest create a strong yet quiet exterior. Piano designed a system for filtering sunlight by ingeniously layering fixed and moving louvers, a steel canopy, a skylight, and a linen scrim, all of which hover above the unpainted plaster walls to produce a Mediterranean glow.

Twombly 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; at times epic in scale or on multiple panels, Twombly created an enigmatic and allusive world of iconography, metaphor, language, and myth.

The works on view in the Cy Twombly Gallery, dating from 1953 to 2004, include several 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), 1994.