twombly and poussin: arcadian painters at dulwich picture gallery

4 August 2011 § Leave a comment

As I speculated a few months back when this exhibition was announced, this did not look promising – a car crash waiting to happen. An opportunistic exhibition seizing on the fact that Cy Twombly was heavily influenced by Nicolas Poussin (he once said that he‘would have liked to have been Poussin’)  and that he, like Poussin, moved to Rome to paint his versions of the ancient myths.

From the moment that you step in to the first room you realise that this exhibition is indeed is a mistake. Twombly’s big energetic works require space and demand to be experienced – they shout at you. Poussin’s work needs quiet contemplation – perhaps they whisper. Bringing together two artists should create new understandings and add to the works on show. This one detracted – I longed to see Twombly by himself and Poussin was made to look dull. You might as well have Clarkson drag-racing a Rolls Royce and a Ferrari – there simply is no point, each is great on its own.

There were nevertheless some good points. It was good to see a number of Cy Twombly works together – especially the four seasons – hung on three sides of a room with no Poussin to distract – whilst across the corridor the same applied to a room of Poussin. A delicate Tacita Dean film portrait of Twombly at the end of the exhibition was a nice addition and last but not least a cappuchino in the gallery’s cafe facing the gardens is always enjoyable.

This was not a match made in heaven – or Arcadia. One of course suspects that the gallery knew this too but they also realise they there is limited scope for interaction for their collection and the crowd-pleasing world of modern and contemporary art. The result is hardly perfect but it is probably worth going for a  look at the wreckage!

 On until 25 September 2011 at the Dulwich Picture Gallery

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