It is not possible to be dejected for long in a museum as good as the Pompidou. A short shuffle and a sharp right turn and there was one of the most exciting and intriguing European artists waiting for me, Asger Jorn. The display essentially focuses on the Situationist movement of which he was a progenitor. Jorn met Guy Debord in 1954 and together the two of them took forward the revolutionary political and artistic principals of the movement. Before the Situationists Jorn was a founding member of Cobra. Cobra was the last major cohesive avant garde art movement of the twentieth century, and the men of Cobra knew how to chuck the paint about, soaring, singing canvasses, brilliant. Jorn rides high with me along side Courbet and a couple of others who really believed art was an essential element in the struggle to bring about social and political change. Many of my generation were infected, affected by the political unrest and riots in Paris in May 1968. Ripples spread out from Paris and washed through the universities and art colleges of Europe, the ideas of Jorn and Debord lie at the heart of these struggles for change. So Jorn saved my Pompidou day and tuned my fiddle.
Following day to the Musee d'Orsay, you would have to be a pretty jaundiced fellow not to get a lift from strolling through the Tuileries and crossing the Seine to greet the Orsay elephants. Always a joy, and the first call has to be communion with the finest haunch to be found in any museum anywhere, Lautrec is the master. New finds to savour, Luce, Desvallieres, Minne, a wonderful Hodler I had never seen before. Tucked away in the Nouveau rooms are the most delicious Malliol maidens, these are the girls who when the struggle loses its flavour will scoop you up in their capable arms and help you up the lane, bless them.
Well, made it to Paris, delivered up two granddaughters who have pony ridden for two complete weeks. They are returned to the bosom completely unshowered, takes the boy in a grandfather to see the joy in that. The Pompidou beckons, I have waited a while for this, the painters painter, the intellectual dauber of the age, Cy Twombly.
Where to start,'Steady the Buffs', first thing to say is that he must be the luckiest painter ever to have walked the planet. I knew the story, the legend, the mythology but I had never confronted the work and I was completely unprepared. Not unprepared for the images, I have seen them reproduced many times, I guess I was unprepared for their reality. I recall a photograph I had seen of Twombly, at his ease with his Contessa in his Roman palazzo. Elegance, style, poise, classic American 'intellectual' sucking up his European culture, I thought some of this would nauseatingly resonate in the work. Got that wrong, if only it had. When he moved to Rome he took a little stick from the New York lofters until he explained that his canvasses were now so large he needed palazzo sized rooms to work in. He also needed to be close to the ancient civilisations, their myths and stories that fed into his complex narratives, also the Contessa's brother, his patron Baron Franchetti picked up most of the bills.
The techniques, the media, the styles are many, what they all have in common is a coarseness. Nowhere will you find the kind of sensitivity to material that you find in the work of a master, no sympathy, understanding of the intrinsic merits associated with individual media, this is not even intuitive mark making, it is dishonest to its core. It is a joke, a travesty to talk of this work along side that of Jasper Johns or Rauschenburg. Take a walk through the Modern galleries and you will find a Johns, one of the number series, not a profound piece but a great painting, a little slick but the paint handling is brilliant, I am aware it's a different game but after the pretentious daubs down the corridor this is bliss. Okay, I just don't get Mr. Twombly, perhaps that's my loss, and to be generous I must own up to a grudging admiration for the marketing of Mr. Twombly, it hasn't always been easy. In 1963 his show at the New York Castelli gallery received brutal reviews, and Twombly reclaimed the unsold canvasses, after this a lasting Trump like distrust of the press set in. After his New York show in 1978, the ten paintings inspired by the Iliad were crated up after the exhibition and stayed crated for ten years until 'acquired' by the Philadeiphia Museum in 1989. If you are going to be a player in the millionaire market you have to be represented in the major museums, this boosts reputation and maintains market value, and if they don't buy you then they must acquire you In 1995 Twombly gifted canvasses to MOMA in New York. The Tate acquired three seriously large Twomblys in 2014, a gift ordained in Mr. Twombly's will. Looks neat in the catologues and the Tate pays storage. Sir Nicholas was thrilled, 'In the current climate they must be worth well over 30 million'. Enough said. The lesson Mr. Twombly has for us is, if you want to make it big, make it really big, it's all a question of scale.
AGED AND AWKWARD