Cy Twombly (1928-2011) – subliminal creation.



Cy Twombly died on 5 July in Rome. The American artist had lived the last 60 years of his life in Italy.

A Post-War artist, Cy TWOMBLY was marginally associated with the American abstract expressionist artists in the 1950s. His works look like graphic psychological releases mixing writing, drawings and numbers. They seem to have been hurriedly scratched, driven by a creative urgency revealing the sub-conscience … a compulsive necessity that reminds us of the automatic writing practiced by some surrealist artists.

Cy Twombly did not achieve genuine international recognition until the beginning of the 21st century: in 2001, he received the Golden Lion award at the Venice Biennial. The artist was no stranger to Venice, and his works had been exposed at the fair since 1964, but the prize did not have an immediate impact on Twombly’s auction prices. In fact international interest did not ignite until three years later (2004) when his travelling exhibition entitled “CY Twombly, 50 years of drawing” allowed his works to be viewed in Saint Petersburg, the Munich Pinakothek, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and finally at the Serpentine Gallery in London. Such broad exposure had an immediate impact on his prices: in 2004 he generated a best-to-date annual auction total of 17 million dollars… and the following year the total gained an additional 4 million dollars. The artist’s best auction result in 2005 was $7.7m for an untitled mixed-technique work made in 1968. The piece sold at Sotheby’s NY and represented his 28th seven-figure auction result. While his works continued to climb in value between 2006 and 2008 (his price index gained +27%) contributing to high annual revenue figures (more than $21m in 2008), he did not sign his absolute record until 2010 when Sotheby’s held its Post-War & Contemporary Art sale in New York on 11 May. The work Unititled dated 1967 sold for $13.5m confirming collectors’ preference for the works he produced in the late 1960s.
At the beginning of the 1990s, some of his late-60s works changed hands for around 50,000 dollars. After the end of the 1990s, they could not be acquired for less than $100,000. His less sought-after works from other periods also enjoyed price inflation and the last canvas acquired for less than $100,000 was sold in June 2003 at Sotheby’s London. That was Roman Notes, an oil painting dated 1970 which fetched £60,000 (£99,600).

Today, his paintings measuring roughly 50cm change hands for between 150,000 and 600,000 dollars on average (all periods combined). With a budget of less than 50,000 dollars, amateur collectors could pick up a drawing such as the small felt pen Apollo (16×23 cm) dated 1963 which sold for 10,000 euros in Munich at Ketterer Kunst on 12 June 2007 after being offered unsuccessfully at Piasa in Paris on 28 November 2006. Another example was Reflection which fetched 34,000 dollars (86.4 x 67.3 cm) on 18 May 2007 in New York (Phillips, de Pury & Company). Four years earlier, the same Reflection had fetched just £5,800 (roughly $9,600) at Christie’s in London (23 June 2003).
On 2 July 2008 at Sotheby’s in London, an Untitled work dated 1965 and measuring 17.7cm x 23.7cm was acquired for €164,411; that was the last Twombly painting to sell at auction for less than €200,000.

While less than 10 Twombly paintings change hands per year at public sales, amateur collectors can find a multitude of drawings and water-colours on paper that sell on average for less than €35,000. The highest price ever paid for one of his drawings was nevertheless above $3m ($3.7m, Untitled, Sotheby’s New York 17 November 1999).
The value of his prints has also followed the upward trend: today one would have to pay around $15,000 for a multiple work by the artist. Some collectors are even willing to pay 200,000 dollars for lots of 6 prints from the Sketches series or his Roman Notes series that were printed in limited editions of 100!

Twombly moved to Italy in 1959, but remained very popular in America where he generated 71% of his auction revenue; however, 39% of his lots sold in Europe during the period 1997-2010. He is also popular in France: in 2010 Christie’s in Paris sold a 50cm² drawing for 440,000 euros ($586,608) and indeed art critics find his work to have affinities with European culture. In 2006, The Lambert Foundation paid tribute to Twombly in Avignon with an exhibition that was to be remembered: a woman managed to damage one of the works by kissing it… a passion whose mark caused a sensation. This year, the same Lambert collection is exposing his photographs of artists until 2 October 2011. Simultaneous to his Avignon exhibition Le Temps retrouvé, Cy Twombly was also the curator of an exhibition that brings together his own works with the chlorinated portraits and video installation of Douglas GORDON and Miquel BARCELO.
At the end of 2011, the artist’s paintings will be exhibited next to the Impressionist masters Turner and Monet at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm (8 October 2011 – 15 January 2012), at the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart in Germany (11 February – 28 May 2012) and lastly at the Tate Liverpool (22 June – 28 October 2012) in what promises to be one of the numerous posthumous exhibitions of the artist’s work.