When I first entered Turbine Hall at London’s Tate Modern museum, I was blown away by the sheer size and industrial grandeur that nearly dwarfed the large scale Anish Kapoor and Rachel Whiteread installations it hosted. Such that I wasn’t even tempted to look at the art or determine its significance objectively. But sliding up the elevator with a bird’s eye view of it below, I schooled myself to do so while wandering the collections in the upper galleries. Still, amidst the ubiquitous modern classics by Rothko, Beuys, Warhol, deKooning and Richter, one of Cy Twombley’s Bacchus series was a painful visual assault, not just for its prominent size, but for its disappointing absence of story. Unless you tell yourself that Mr. Twombley simply needed exercise that day and found himself with an excess of plywood and red paint that demanded a wall in his studio and by extension in many major modern art museums.
I could not help but recall this quotation seen in an art magazine long ago. It was attributed to a Tim TwoGuns, someone I’d never heard of, perhaps an artist?
“When artists create works of art, we become part of these works. After physical death, our spirits remain and our works of art become windows back to the living world. We cannot travel back through the window, but in spiritual form can observe the painting’s owners on the other side. If we become bored with the lives of one family, or if they are not at home that day, we can move to another of our works of art on another wall somewhere else…” I also remember thinking that if this were true, then the owners of our artwork would see part of us, the artists, in the image too. Which is why, as an illustrator, such art dismays and saddens me. Was Mr. Twombley merely being cynical, riding on his reputation as a marketable artist? Knowing that truly great art must serve as testament to its era for future generations, then all our descendants will glean from our era is that much of the 20th and early 21st century was chaotic and self-indulgent, trumpeting size and cost over substance. Like the gentleman/connoisseur above, do we really want to get sucked into this stuff and sacrifice our history for the sake of exhorting ‘freedom of expression’ at all esthetic cost? How do we move forward if we forget how to look back?