Come to America

Portrait of Gertrude Stein (with American flag as backdrop), Carl Van Vechten, January 4, 1935

 
 

1 May 1933

 

150 West Fifty-fifth Street
[New York]

 

Dear Gertrude,

 

Wherever one goes̱‒and I just gone to Baltimore‒one hears about your paper in the Atlantic. Everybody loves it. Even Harry Hansen who made some asinine remarks about it really loves it. Anyway, it seems the whole town rose to write and correct him¹. We are all dying for the 20 of May when the June number comes out and when I think I have to wait till July 20 to get at the whole I some times think I can’t bear it and other times I am happy because I have so much pleasure ahead of me! You are a woojums and Alice is woojums and I foresee now that you must, soon or late, come to America and then I will photograph you… I do nothing but make photographs now and they are good… I like your Francis Rose portraits². Edith brings in food on the Carlo plates more often than not, but it does not need that to remind us of you… Fania had her appendix out and is much better than she has been in years, I didn’t have mine out, but I am better too! In this crazy world it is nice to remember that there are two people we love called Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.

a great many shell boxes and four orchids to you!

 

Carlo

 

NOTES FROM THE EDITOR:

1. Harry Hansen was a syndicated newspaper columnist.
2. Stein had sen Van Vechten a photograph of a portrait done of her by Sir Francis Rose (1930-33), which is now in the collection of the heirs of Gertrude Stein. She also sent him a photograph of Rose’s Portrait of Alice B. Toklas (1932)

 

The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Carl Van Vechten, 1913-1946
By Edward Burns

Advertisements

Broken Flag

“Nodding though, the lamp’s lit low, nod for passers
underground
To and fro, she’s darning and the land is weeping red
and pale
Weeping yarn from Algiers,
weeping yarn from Algiers

Weaving though, the eyes are pale, what will rend,
will also mend
The sifting cloth is binding and the dream she weaves
will never end
For we’re marching toward Algiers,
for we’re marching toward Algiers

Lullaby though, baby’s gone,
lullaby a broken song
Oh, the cradle was our call,
when it rocked we carried on
And we marched on toward Algiers,
for we’re marching for Algiers
We’re still marching for Algiers,
marching, marching for Algiers

Not to hail a barren sky,
sifting cloth is weeping red
The mourning veil is waving high a field of stars
and tears we’ve shed
In the sky a broken flag, children wave and raise their arms
We’ll be gone but they’ll go on and on and on and on and on”

Patti Smith

Waves
1979

 

Photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe

 

 Photograph by Steven Sebring

Part of America’s Musical Landscape

“I guess I wrote it because there was a part of myself that I was looking for. Maybe now that I feel more comfortable with the way that I live my life and my mental state (laughs) and my spiritual state whatever, maybe I feel there’s some kind of unity now. That song for me always exemplified kind of how you feel when you’re young, when you know that there’s a piece of yourself that you haven’t really put together yet. You have this great searching, this great need to find out who you really are.”

David Bowie
BBC Radio 1 special programme ChangesNowBowie, broadcast on 8 January 1997

 
 

David Bowie poses in front of US flag for a portrait by Michael Ochs, 1976

 
 

In his journals, Kurt Cobain of the American grunge band Nirvana ranked the album The Man Who Sold the World at number 45 in his top 50 favourite albums. A live rendition of the song was recorded by the band in 1993 during their MTV Unplugged appearance, and it was released on their MTV Unplugged in New York album the following year. The song was also released as a promotional single for the album, and received considerable airplay on alternative rock radio stations. It was also thrown into heavy rotation on music video stations such as MTV. Nirvana regularly covered the song during live sets after their memorable acoustic performance up until lead singer Cobain’s death in 1994. In 2002 the song was re-released on Nirvana’s “best of” compilation album Nirvana.

Bowie said of Nirvana’s cover: “I was simply blown away when I found that Kurt Cobain liked my work, and have always wanted to talk to him about his reasons for covering The Man Who Sold the World” and that “it was a good straight forward rendition and sounded somehow very honest. It would have been nice to have worked with him, but just talking with him would have been real cool”. Bowie called Nirvana’s cover “heartfelt,” noting that “until this [cover], it hadn’t occurred to me that I was part of America’s musical landscape. I always felt my weight in Europe, but not [in the US].” In the wake of its release, Bowie bemoaned the fact that when he performed the number himself he would encounter “kids that come up afterwards and say, ‘It’s cool you’re doing a Nirvana song.’ And I think, ‘Fuck you, you little tosser!'”

The song’s title is similar to that of Robert A. Heinlein‘s 1949 science fiction novella The Man Who Sold the Moon, with which Bowie was familiar. However, the song has no similarities to the story in the book. In common with a number of tracks on the album, the song’s themes have been compared to the horror-fantasy works of H. P. Lovecraft. The persona in the song has an encounter with a kind of doppelgänger, as suggested in the second chorus where “I never lost control” is replaced with “We never lost control”. Beyond this, the episode is unexplained: as James E. Perone wrote:

Bowie encounters the title character, but it is not clear just what the phrase means, or exactly who this man is. … The main thing that the song does is to paint – however elusively – the title character as another example of the societal outcasts who populate the album.

 
 

To watch Nirvana’s performance, please take a gander at The Genealogy of Style‘s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228?ref=hl

A Form of Escapism

“Fashion should be a form of escapism, and not a form of imprisonment”
Alexander McQueen

 
 

The Eye, Alexander McQueen Spring Summer 2000 Collection. McQueen turned the runway into a terrifying bed of metal spikes and nails. Models were lifted into the air showing off sheer knits, body hugging jerseys and a controversial makeover of the burka among other racy interpretations of Middle Eastern dress.

 
 

This season, Alexander McQueen is staging his first major show in New York. Rumors about the show abound: Some say he plan to suspend models from the Brooklyn Bridge. Others say he is going to use 240 models, that they will walk through a pool of oil, and that the show will cost a million dollars. The location is kept secret until the last minute. To add to the drama, a hurricane is heading up the coast. New York’s mayor issues an order for schools and businesses to close and for people to return home by three in the afternoon.

Although many shows have been cancelled, McQueen’s evening presentation at Pier 94 on the Hudson River is on. More than a thousand people brave the torrential rain and gusting sixty-mile-per-hour to attend. Inside the cavernous warehouse is a shallow pool. The music starts, and the first model strides out, splashing through the water and sending up droplets that glisten in the spotlight.

This show is said to be a protest against the repression of Islamic women with the water on the runway representing the oil of wealthy middle-eastern countries. In keeping with the Islamic theme, veils appear along with crescent moon motifs –but the designs are counterbalanced by a western sensibility.

 
 

Alexander McQueen drops his trousers to show off his American flag print underwear during the show’s finale.

United by Crosses

The current design of the flag dates from the union of Ireland and Great Britain in 1801. It consists of the red cross of Saint George (patron saint of England), edged in white, superimposed on the Cross of St Patrick (patron saint of Ireland), which are superimposed on the Saltire of Saint Andrew (patron saint of Scotland). Wales, however, is not represented in the Union Flag by Wales’s patron saint, Saint David, as at the time the flag was designed Wales was part of the Kingdom of England. The flag’s correct height-to-length proportions are 1:2. However, the version used by the British Army modifies the proportions to 3:5 and also crops two of the red diagonals.

The earlier flag of Great Britain was established in 1606 by a proclamation of King James VI and I of Scotland and England. The new flag of the United Kingdom was officially created by an Order in Council of 1801, reading as follows:

The Union Flag shall be azure, the Crosses saltire of Saint Andrew and Saint Patrick quarterly per saltire, counter-changed, argent and gules, the latter fimbriated of the second, surmounted by the Cross of Saint George of the third fimbriated as the saltire.

 
 

The Brit Pack

From left: Stella Tennant in Stella McCartney, Cecilia Chancellor in Luella Bartley, Erin O’Connor in John Galliano, Jacquetta Wheeler in Nicole Farhi, Naomi Campbell in Julien Macdonald, Liberty Ross in Clements Ribeiro, Kate Moss in Hussein Chalayan, Elizabeth Jagger in Russell Sage and Philip Treacy, Jade Parfitt in Paul Smith, Rosemary Ferguson in Markus Lupfer, Jasmine Guinness in Boyd, Lisa Ratcliffe in Sophia Kokosalaki, Karen Elson in Betty Jackson, Georgina Cooper in Antonio Berardi, Alek Wek in Belville Sassoon by Lorcan Mullany, Sophie Dahl in Matthew Williamson, Vivien Solari in Robert Cary-Williams and Jodie Kidd in Vivienne Westwood. Photo by Mario Testino for Vogue, January 2002

Patriot Model

Kate Moss photographed by Terry O’Neill, 1995

 
 

Photos by Richard Chambury, taken  at the launch of London Fashion Week, September 25, 1997

 
 

 

Union Jack Jacket by John Galliano

 
 

Moss in a leather corset, sheer top, and Union Jack flag – makes a brief appearance in Cast & Crew in the October 2009 issue of Vogue UK

 
 

Dazed and Confused, May 2007 issue. Cover photo by Rankin

Hopes and Glory

The Union Jack cap is paired with a leather and horsehair hat by Soren Bach. The black embroidered tulle and lace dress is from Dior Haute Couture by John Galliano

 
 

The vintage Russell Sage Union Jack jacket joins forces with a short tulle dress hand embroidered with guipure and silk taffeta from Elie Saab Couture

 
 

Looking patriotic in makeshift Union Jack trousers by Katie Eary, worn with a Jean-Paul Gaultier’s beaded Deco top

 
 

Images of Kate Moss by Mario Testino, Vogue,  October 2008

EART HL I NG

“I guess the common ground with all the songs is this abiding need in me to vacillate between atheism or a kind of gnosticism. I keep going backwards and forwards between the two things, because they mean a lot in my life. I mean, the church doesn’t enter into my writing, or my thought; I have no empathy with any organised religions. What I need is to find a balance, spiritually, with the way I live and my demise. And that period of time – from today until my demise – is the only thing that fascinates me.”

David Bowie

 
 

Earthling is the twentieth studio album by David Bowie released in February 1997 via BMG Records.  Before the album was released, Bowie considered using Earthlings (plural) for the album’s title. The album showcases an electronica-influenced sound partly inspired by the industrial and drum and bass culture of the 1990s. This was the first album Bowie self-produced since his 1974 album Diamond Dogs. Shortly after the release of this album, Bowie received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

 
 

Alexander McQueen Union Jack coat designed in collaboration with David Bowie for the Earthling album cover (art direction by Bowie himself). This coat combines elements of classic British design, represented by the Union Jack and expert tailoring learnt by McQueen on Saville Row, with an iconoclastic and subversive punk aesthetic.

 
 

Photographs by Frank W. Ockenfels

The Painted World

In the artist’s studio in Gaeta, a coastal town on the Mediterranean, works related to his Four Seasons series include details of Primavera (left) and Estate (right). The canvases, shown when still in progress in 1994, are nailed

 
 

Cy Twombly enjoying local fare at a restaurant in Rome

 
 

Another Twombly painting is propped against a wall in the house, where white tiles cover most of the floors

 
 

In the bright open Gaeta house, a second version of Inverno from Twombly’s Four Seasons series hangs against a wall for inspection. Books of poetry, postcards, acrylics and oils, crayons and pencils fill a table

 
 

Twombly in the terraced garden outside the Gaeta house

 
 

A still life in one of the house’s many rooms

 
 

Found frames and French and American flags are propped against the walls in a hallway. Furniture is covered casually in a room behind

 
 

A Twombly sculpture and an antique stool and frame in another room in the apartment

 
 

The artist in his vast, spare apartment on the via Monserrato in Rome, which house his collection of classical pieces

 
 

Photos by Bruce Weber

Text by Dodie Kazanjian

Vogue, 1994

 
 

The taxi doesn’t quite make it up the steep hill to Cy Twombly’s house in Gaeta. At the third hairpin turn we get out and walk the remaining 20 yards to a gray steel door embedded in a rough stone wall. Twombly has a little trouble opening it. Tall, lanky, dressed in rumpled white linen pants held up by blue suspenders, he looks more like a provincial winegrower than a famous artist. The door grates on its hinges, and we’re inside a paradise of thick white walls, terraces, ceramic tile floors, and cool interconnecting rooms bare of furniture except for a few striking pieces—bleached Louis XV chairs, a long table piled high with books, blue-and-white fabrics, ornate empty picture frames, Twombly paintings leaning against the walls, and one or two of his little-known, gawky, white-painted sculptures. Twombly throws back the shutters in each room, flooding the house with light and opening up dazzling vistas of the seaside town and the blue Mediterranean.
On the train down from Rome this morning Twombly started telling me and my husband, an old friend of his, about the town as soon as it came into view around the shoulder of a mountain. “Hadrian had a villa here,” he said. “Cicero is buried here, and so is the Roman general who founded Lyon. Catullus had friends here. It was kind of a summer art colony, like East Hampton, but not anymore—that was 2,000 years ago. Gaeta was the name of Aeneas’s wet nurse. She was with him on his return from Troy, and she died here, so he named the place after her. I believe that. Nobody could make that up.” Twombly is full of history, which he relays in the accents of his Virginia childhood. Even his Italian comes out that way—when he says si, si, which he does a lot, it has a southern drawl to it.

Gaeta, 60 miles north of Naples, is where Twombly has done most of his painting in the last few years. Tacked to the wall in the high-ceilinged room he uses as his studio is a large vertical canvas, more than ten feet tall. Titled Summer, it is the last of a series on the four seasons, which will be shown at the Twombly retrospective that opens at the Museum of Modern Art in New York this month and then travels to Houston, Los Angeles, and Berlin. Autumn, Winter, and Spring (in that order) were finished months ago and have already been shipped to the museum. But “I’m having a real bad time with Summer,” he had told me several times when I spoke with him by telephone from New York. The painting is still unfinished, and Twombly is not happy about letting us see it. When we start asking questions about the Four Seasons, he bristles. “It’s not Four Seasons,” he says. “That sounds like the Four Seasons Hotel. I think of them as Quattro Stagioni. Summer isn’t finished yet, as I told you, and that’s all I’m going to say about that. It’s absurd to talk about paintings that you haven’t finished.”
Cy Twombly is the great outsider of contemporary art. In 1957, at the precise moment when the main energy of the art world seemed to have taken up permanent residence in New York, Twombly moved to Rome. Two years later, he married Tatiana Franchetti, a talented portrait painter from a wealthy and aristocratic Italian family, and he has lived in Italy, more or less, ever since. While his fellow southerners Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns were using popular imagery and mundane objects to blaze the trails that would lead to Pop and Minimal art, Twombly chose a different direction entirely. His would lead back through European art and literature to the ancient world of classical mythology, of gods and heroes and the great poetic traditions of the Mediterranean, which in his paintings merges indistinguishably with the modern urban street culture of graffiti, sexual imagery, and raw sensation. His work seems to exist in another time zone.

But Twombly’s work has never been easy to like. The scribbles, smears, blots, and seemingly random markings of his intensely personal style have often evoked the kind of philistine response that says, “My kid could do better than that.” Artists love his work, but will the public come to see it at MoMA? Twombly is definitely “an acquired taste, even within the art world,” says curator Mark Rosenthal, who tried to do a Twombly retrospective a few years ago while at the Philadelphia Museum of Art—Twombly initially agreed but changed his mind in midstream. The National Endowment for the Arts refused to give a grant to the current show, and the Modern was unable to line up a major corporate sponsor.
Twombly is famously difficult and famously elusive, and this has not made his work any easier to see. Ever since the disastrous 1964 show of his Commodus paintings at the Castelli Gallery in New York—their fervid painterliness seemed out of step with the hard-edged commercial imagery of Pop Art, then in ascendance, and nothing was sold—he has shown infrequently in this country. “Cy just evaporated,” according to Leo Castelli. Twombly has avoided exclusive commitments with any dealer, preferring to control the distribution of his rare new paintings through one or two close associates, and much of his major work is in European, not American, collections.
Twombly goes off to another part of the house, leaving us alone with the painting. In addition to Summer, there are three other unstretched canvases nailed to the walls of his studio, part of a second series on the same Quattro Stagioni theme. Twombly often paints a subject more than once: There are four versions of Leda and the Swan, two of the School of Athens, two of Birth of Venus.) His worktables are covered with oil crayons; pencils; tubes of pigment; postcard reproductions of boats and marine scenes; a big Manet art book open to a page that shows a boat painting; stacks of other art books (Ensor, Whistler, Turner); and a book of modern Greek poems in translation, turned to George Seferis’s Three Secret Poems. Several lines of one stanza have been altered by Twombly, with some words inked out. A section of the edited and spliced poem (with a few new words added by Twombly) is written on the canvas of Summer, in Twombly’s inimitable, childish scrawl:

“the shard of white . . .
trembling with white light
with white flat sea
distant in memory
between the deluge of life
our dearest, our white youth
our white, our snow white youth
that is infinity . . .”

Twombly’s paintings often seem to be as much written as painted. His spindly, meandering letters and words can evoke memory and emotion with the power of Chinese calligraphy, but their effect is never literary—the words work within the visual field of a master painter. And Twombly has never painted better than in his Four Seasons series. The paint is luscious, active, full of violent movement. The image of a spectral boat with oars, which recurs throughout the series, is gray in Summer, but hot yellows and reds predominate—sun colors, on a mostly white or unpainted ground. The cut-up lines of poetry appear and disappear, run down one side of the canvas, sometimes partially smudged or painted over. It’s vintage Twombly, aggressive, hesitant, tough, nervous, scatological, poetic, complex, playful, ancient, up-to-the-minute, intensely personal, and grand—a bundle of contradictory impulses that miraculously work together.

Comparisons are inevitable between Twombly’s Four Seasons and Jasper Johns’s four paintings on the same theme, which were done between 1985 and 1986. Twombly had been thinking about the seasons theme for a long time. He played with it in earlier works, such as the 1961 Empire of Flora and the four-panel 1977 Bacchanalia, and in recent years, as the main emphasis in his work has shifted from history and myth to nature, he became drawn to what is, after all, one of the great themes of European art. “All of Jasper’s seasons look like winter,” Twombly says with a sly chuckle. “Mine all look like summer.”

That may have been the way they started, but it’s not true any longer. Autunno is saturated with the deep reds and throbbing purples of the wine harvest; it has the word Silenus, the wine god, written across it, and, near the right edge, the words pure wild sex. This is a long way from the stately black-and-yellow Inverno, and the raspy yellows and reds of Primavera, a raw rite of spring, with jagged boat shapes up and down the middle. The day after he finally finished the last in the series, Twombly told me, “My head is completely burning up. All I’m doing is seeing yellow. I wake up in the morning, and the white walls look yellow. I had a great deal of trouble with Summer. At a certain point I was ready to throw in the brush. But I got crazy in a good way here.” By this time, however, the painting my husband and I had seen no longer existed. Twombly had decided to start over on a fresh canvas. I went to see it the day it arrived in New York. You could still smell the paint. It was simpler than the previous one, and much more liquid, wet and runny, with molten streaks of red and yellow and orange. “High on light” was scrawled on the left side in red, “how the dizziness/slipped away/like a fish in the/sea.”

Two days before the trip to Gaeta, in Twombly’s apartment on the via Monserrato in Rome, we had seen a quartet of paintings on the four seasons by an anonymous seventeenth-century Italian mannerist, part of Twombly’s wide-ranging and eccentric collection. Also two huge dark eighteenth-century landscapes by John Wootton, whom Twombly described as the English artist who introduced the work of Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin to England. “I look at a lot of artists,’ ” he says. “I’m inspired by—I suppose I shouldn’t say ‘inspired,’ but it’s not really influenced. I am inspired. Art comes from art.” Classical busts of Apollo, Venus, Marcus Aurelius, and other worthies stand on pedestals in the rather grandiose, white-walled rooms of the Rome apartment, where the furniture looks as though it never gets much use.

Twombly started buying antiquities on his first visit to Rome, with Robert Rauschenberg, in 1952. “He spent my half of our grant on Roman sculpture,” according to Rauschenberg. “So I had to go off and get a job with Atlas Construction in Casablanca.” Twombly quit buying classical antiquities a few years ago. “New York decorators started putting a classical torso in every room, and it became impossible,” he says. But when we walk with him in Rome, he constantly stops to look at objects in shop windows—a malachite clock, a tiny piano (“It must have been Mozart’s first”), a miniature sarcophagus with a lapis top (“It’s not very good lapis. The best lapis comes from Afghanistan”). His eagle eye for quality deceives some people into thinking of him as a great decorator, but his various domestic interiors, striking as they are, have almost nothing to do with decoration, or with comfort, either. They all have the transient look of spaces that are used primarily for work.

When Twombly and Rauschenberg were together at Black Mountain College, they were exposed to what their fellow student Francine du Plessix Gray describes as a “grab bag” approach to world culture. “We were reading Ezra Pound’s Guide to Kulchur and then Virgil because Pound tells you to read Virgil and Fenollosa on Japanese art and Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground and Leo Frobenius on African rock painting and Pausanias’s Description of Greece. This sort of nativist American grab-bag attitude reminds me very much of the cultural map implied in Cy’s paintings.”
It might also be said to describe the kind of restless life that Twombly has chosen to lead. For years now, he has spent very little time in Rome. He owns a sixteenth-century villa in Bassano, near the gardens of Bomarzo, an hour north of Rome. Many of his paintings and drawings have been done during temporary stays in other places he likes—Sperlonga, Mykonos, the Seychelles, Robert Rauschenberg’s house on Captiva Island in Florida, an Italian friend’s villa in Bolsena. He travels all the time, sometimes with his wife, Tatiana, who nevertheless leads a highly independent life of her own, and whose hobby is collecting old rosebushes—she was on a rose hunt in Turkistan at the time of our visit to Gaeta. (Their 34-year-old son, Alessandro, who is also a painter, collects iris tubers.) “I fall in love with places,” Twombly tells us. He fell in love with Paris a few years back, rented and furnished an apartment there, but never stayed in it; he found he preferred his circular corner room at the Left Bank Hôtel de la Louisiane. “Simone de Beauvoir lived there. Sartre, too, but of course he went home to mama every night, like a good French writer.”

Last year he rediscovered Lexington, Virginia, where he grew up. He recently bought a house in the town and now spends several months a year there. “I’m like an old dog who’s come home to die. I see people I grew up with, but I can’t talk about old times with them. I can’t remember any of that. It’s not a nostalgic trip for me.” His father, a coach and, later, athletic director at Washington and Lee University there, had acquired the nickname Cy (after the legendary pitcher Cy Young) when he pitched for the Chicago White Sox one summer. He passed it on to his only son, who showed no enthusiasm for organized athletics. Cy’s parents came from old-line New England families—as a boy, he used to visit his grandparents in Bar Harbor, Boston, and Palm Beach—and a sense of that old American aristocracy is never far from the surface of his laconic, laid-back personality. “When he moved to Italy, I think he was recovering that aristocracy that he always felt by nature,” says Rauschenberg. “I couldn’t forget that he couldn’t forget it.”

Twombly has always been a loner. Unlike most successful artists these days, he has no studio assistants and wants nobody around when he’s working. This sometimes leads to odd working habits. “One Twombly I really love is called Untitled, 1958,” says cult-film director John Waters. “It’s all on the very bottom of the painting. It looks like the artist climbed up a ladder, but it was hung so high he could only reach the very bottom. He barely managed a scribble, hardly a mark. And then he fell off the ladder and died. I love art that does that, that makes people crazy.” Waters wasn’t just fantasizing, as it turns out. “I just finished a big painting, sixteen meters long and four meters high, that I’ve been working on, off and on, for ten years,” Twombly tells me. “It’s hard for me to get up on a ladder because I’m all alone in the studio. I could fall off and be lying on the floor for days. So most things happen at the bottom of the painting.”

Twombly answers his own phone—when and if he feels like it. Friends used to reach him by letting his number ring twice, hanging up, and dialing again, but that system is no longer operative. He hates being interviewed or photographed, rules out tape recorders or notebooks, and balks at any sort of direct questions about his life or his painting. (He agreed to teach a philosophy seminar at Washington and Lee last spring and chose his own subject: the idea of metamorphosis. But he quit after one session because the students “asked too many questions.”) He’s definitive in his likes and dislikes—good, unpretentious trattorias over four-star showplaces; espresso in a glass (“It tastes much smoother than in porcelain, like tea tastes better from a china than a silver pot”); shirts and underpants from Brooks Brothers; white linen pants from “Banana” (he means Banana Republic); Bass loafers because “they’re the only ones who make the nonshiny kind”; a 1940s white double-breasted whipcord jacket that he found at a thrift shop. He reads for two or three hours every day in his eclectic fashion—history, poetry, travel books, Walter Pater’s essays, Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy. He’s never liked the process of printmaking, “because you have to work with all those other people.” He doesn’t want to think of himself as a professional painter (the aristocratic prejudice again), and he works only when he feels like it—sometimes months will go by when he doesn’t paint. He hates to make plans or schedules, moves from place to place on impulse, doesn’t always show up when he’s invited somewhere. “Cy says he’ll be there in half an hour,” Rauschenberg quips, “but he doesn’t say which month.”

Twombly has always been astute about placing his work, and now it is about to become much more visible in the United States, and not just at the Modern. Fifty Days at lliam, his ten-part painting on the theme of the Trojan War, has been on permanent display since 1989, in a space of its own, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. (Cy is aware that he misspelled Iliam—it should be Ilium. He laughs off the story that he once said, “My painting isn’t getting better, but my spelling is.”) The Menil Collection in Houston is building a special addition that will be, in effect, a one-man Twombly museum, although Twombly, who designed the floor plan in collaboration with architect Renzo Piano, prefers to call it a gallery; the inauguration will be next February, when MoMA’s Twombly show comes to Houston. The Dia Center for the Arts in New York, which has a large collection of Twombly’s work, plans to install most of it in 1996 in a newly created space on West Twenty-second Street. Twombly has been generous with these institutions because they are so obviously dedicated to his work, but there is no doubt who calls the shots and controls the way his work will be seen. Asked whom to go to for a new Twombly painting, he replies, “I have them.”

Twombly is showing us his garden in Gaeta, a terraced landscape on the hill above the house. It’s a series of what he calls stanze segrete, “secret rooms,” each defined by a different tree—pleached lindens, lemon trees, square-and-cone-shaped laurels, orange trees—with hedges of olive and laurel. It’s a green garden with no flowers. “I hate roses,” he says. “Don’t you? It’s all right if you can hide them in a cutting garden, but I think a rose garden is the height of ick.” Each “room” has stunning views of the sea and of the two ancient castles on the next hill. The red-tile roofs of his own house are directly below. “I love that,” he drawls. “It looks like an Arab village.” He is less pleased with the church next door. “It’s a hideous nineteenth- century Victorian church,” he says, “where everybody wants to get married.”

We walk down the hill for lunch at his favorite local trattoria. It’s full of large families enjoying Sunday dinner. “Sit over there,” he tells me, “so you won’t have to look at the babies.” Kids run in and out and between the tables, getting into fights. “Alessandro was such a good child,” Twombly says ruefully. “If you sent him out to play, he’d send back a note saying, ‘I’m in the garden.’ ” I make the mistake of trying to get him to talk about his New England family (without asking any direct questions), and the undercurrent of irritation that has been building up in him suddenly erupts. “I swear if I had to do this over again, I would just do the paintings and never show them. And then after I’m dead, they could talk about them all they want. I’m just not interested in myself that way. I was brought up to think you don’t talk about yourself. I hate all this. Why should I have to talk about the paintings. I do them, isn’t that enough?”
The storm passes, and we finish lunch. Walking through town afterward, along the seawall, Twombly is friendly and conversational, pointing out the thirteenth-century campanile with its Moorish inlaid tiles and saying how much better the town would look if the houses were all painted white. Twombly has made the ancient world of the Mediterranean his own. He likes to say that he has no sense of time. “Sometimes when I’m writing the date on a letter, I have to ask what year it is.” He talks about the illustrated books he wants to do after he gets through the “anguish” of the Modern show. Some years ago, he did illustrations for the Odes of Horace and for Edmund Spenser’s Shepheardes Calender. “I like bucolic poetry,” he says. “Theocritus, Virgil. I’m from an agrarian part of the country. Although I wouldn’t do it if I was in America. When I used to spend time in Bassano, you could still see shepherds tending flocks of goats. Once I actually saw one throw himself down under a tree and play a flute. It still lives here, that Mediterranean world. And nothing that’s living is old to me.”

Photo Essays in Black and White

Self-portrait, 1959

 
 

Bruce Davidson Bruce Davidson was born on born September 5, 1933 in Oak Park, Illinois. At age 10, his mother built him a darkroom in their basement and Davidson began taking photographs. Soon after, he approached a local photographer who taught him the technical nuances of photography, in addition to lighting and printing skills. His artistic influences included Robert Frank, Eugene Smith, and Henri Cartier-Bresson.

At 16, Davidson won his first major photography award, the Kodak National High School snapshot contest, with a picture of an owl at a nature preserve. After he graduated from high school, Davidson attended the Rochester Institute of Technology and Yale University, where one of his teachers was artist Josef Albers. Davidson showed Albers a box of prints of alcoholics on Skid Row; Albers told him to throw out his “sentimental” work and join his class in drawing and color. For his college thesis, Davidson created a photo essay that was published in LIFE in 1955, documenting the emotions of football players behind the scenes of the game.

Following college, Davidson was drafted into the US Army, where he served in the Signal Corps at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, attached to the post’s photo pool. Initially, he was given routine photo assignments. Undaunted, Davidson created out of seemingly mundane material unique photo studies. An editor of the post’s newspaper, recognizing his unique talents, asked that he be permanently assigned to the post newspaper. There, given a certain degree of autonomy, he was allowed to further hone his talents. Later, stationed in Paris, he met Henri Cartier-Bresson, a later colleague with the Magnum photo agency, sharing his portfolio and receiving advice from Cartier-Bresson. While in France, Davidson produced a photo essay on the Widow of Montmartre, an old Parisian woman who was married with an impressionist painter.

 
 

Widow of Montmartre, Paris, 1956

 
 

The Dwarf, 1958

 
 

Couple necking on pole at basement party while girl looks on, from Brooklyn Gang, 1957

 
 

Brooklyn Gang and the American writer Norman Mailer, 1959

 
 

Brooklyn Gang. Bengie and friends at Bay Twenty-two, Coney Island. Clockwise from left: Bengie, Junior, Bryan, Lefty, 1959

 
 

Brooklyn Gang, 1959

 
 

A group of civil rights demonstrators led by Martin Luther King Jr. marches from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., during the civil rights movement

 
 

Martin Luther King Jr. at a press conference declaring the Freedom Rides will continue. John Lewis (left) was beaten by KKK earlier in Montgomery, Alabama, 1961

 
 

A Freedom Rider sits in the bus during a rain storm, with National Guardsmen outside, 1961

 
 

National Guardsmen protect the Freedom Riders during their ride from Montgomery to Jackson, Mississippi.

 
 

The Feedom Rides – from Selma to Montgomery. Here a rider and a National Guardsman asleep on the bus, 1961

 
 

Diana Ross and another member of the Supremes catch some rest in bunks at the Apollo Theater in New York City in 1965.

 
 

This photo is taken from Davidson’s series East 100th Street, the result of his spending two years documenting the people inhabiting the East Harlem street, 1966

 
 

A couple enjoys a day out in New York City’s Central Park. During the 1990s, Davidson spent four years exploring and documenting the grandeur of the city’s treasured preserve.

A Time for Greatness and JFK’s Bold Legacy

Portrait of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Norman Rockwell, 1960

 
 

In The Norman Rockwell Album of 1961, the artist recalled his encounters with Kennedy.

It was a cold, misty morning in Hyannis Port. Mr. Kennedy leaned out of an upstairs window in his pajamas and said to go right on into the house, he would be down in a minute.  While Mr. Kennedy ate his breakfast, I selected a room in which to take photographs.  As I posed him, I remarked that I thought a rather dignified, serious pose would be best; his youthful appearance should not be emphasized.  He agreed.  Afterward we walked onto to the breakwater near the house to see his sailboat.  As we were returning to the house, Mr. Kennedy suggested that we try the pose again.  He felt that he had been a little stiff the first time.  We did, and his expression was just what I had wanted—serious, with a certain dignity, but relaxed and pleasant, not hard.

 
 

A time for Greatness, 1964

 
 

The Peace Corps (J.F.K.’s Bold Legacy), 1966

 
 

Rockwell repeated the simple and powerful style used in Freedom of Worship to lend impact to this painting. Knowing his strength lay in communicating ideas and feelings through facial expressions, Rockwell chose to portray faces rather than situations to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Corps. During his 1960 presidential campaign, John F. Kennedy proposed the idea of a volunteer organization of trained people who would be sent to developing nations in Africa and Asia to assist villagers in educational and agricultural projects. In 1961, the program which Kennedy hoped would promote understanding between nations was officially instated.

Rockwell’s portrait of Kennedy is based on a Jacques Lowe photograph from his book, The Kennedy Years. Former Peace Corps workers posed for most of the figures. “In this sordid world of power struggles, politics and national rivalries the Peace Corps seems to stand almost alone,” wrote Rockwell to art director Allen Hurlburt, when he sent the picture to Look magazine.