Cy Twombly: Natural Histories

Natural History Part I, Mushrooms: No. IV

April 29 – August 14, 2016
Blank one Gallery

The Des Moines Art Center is home to Natural History Part I, Mushrooms (1974) and Natural History Part II, Some Trees of Italy (1976), two print portfolios by Cy Twombly (1928-2011). In these series, the artist explores the relationship between the material world, primarily nature; the ways that nature has been categorized in the recent past; and finally, the way that vision is perhaps more highly regarded than the other senses in western society today.

Twombly appropriates and riffs on botanical illustrations of mushroom and tree species from an unidentified specimen book. The artist also makes use of diagrams, graph paper, numbers, charts, and on one print, the bi-nomial names for tree species, all of which suggest the language of science, primarily that of collecting and classifying natural specimens. However, the artist obscures much of this quasi-scientific language with his own scribbles, scrawls, smudges, and not coincidentally, address labels. In doing so, Twombly challenges claims to “label” and know the natural world through empirical means and suggests the limitations of the taxonomical systems.

Twombly’s visual interventions do not cancel out the scientific systems he quotes in these prints but instead reinvigorates them. The sense of immediacy invoked by his drawing, the use of collage, and the marks he made directly on the prints emphasize materiality and point to the artist’s interest in providing a multi-sensory experience, not just a visual one. Twombly brings together in this series the material evidence of being, with the complexities of human existence.

This exhibition was organized by Senior Curator Alison Ferris, and Megan Cohen, assistant registrar/curatorial assistant.

Cy Twombly, American, 1928 - 2011
Natural History Part I, Mushrooms: No. IV, 1974
Mixed media technique: lithograph, granolithograph, collotype, photochrome with collage, and drawings by the artist on paper
Frame: 41 5/8 × 33 3/8 × 1 1/2 in. (105.7 × 84.8 × 3.8 cm.)
Sheet (/image): 29 11/16 × 22 in. (75.4 × 55.9 cm.)
Des Moines Art Center Permanent Collections; Purchased with funds from Rose F. Rosenfield, 1988.7.4
Photo Credit: Rich Sanders, Des Moines

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