Late work is often tricky to evaluate, especially when it deviates from the genre or style for which the artist is well known. Edward Said has noted that popular late work is traditionally serene, wise, harmonious and “premised upon letting go,” in contrast to more problematic (usually more consequential) late work, which is generally disturbed, deliberate, unproductive and indifferent to its own continuity. The Art Institute’s selection of Cy Twombly’s work from 2000-2007, by Said’s definition, would fit resolutely into the category of marketable late work, providing a show that’s easy on the eyes and less critically inclined than the calligraphy/graffiti scribble paintings for which Twombly is best known (and arguably most important). However, while Said is critical of the kind of late work audiences like, Twombly epitomizes how reconciliation and calm peaceful progression can be not only gorgeous and satisfying to a viewer but also captivating to one following an artist’s career. “The Natural World” contains a variety of work, from exquisite if somewhat stock sculptures of wood and plaster, serenely painted in white (along with some boring dry print photographs of one of the sculptures); to the real draw of the exhibition, which are the increasingly monumental abstract and semi-abstract paintings, with great blotches of color dripping down vibrant canvases, florid and evocative. Many contain a few of Twombly’s signature written scrawls, calling to mind his groundbreaking word paintings of the 1950s and sixties, and the three paintings of peonies, from his most recent 2007 show are truly showstoppers, completely uninhibited in their delight of flamboyant beauty. It’s not so much the motifs from nature, which is presented as the overarching theme of the exhibit, as the obvious and rare exhibition of a vibrant, still evolving, ripeness to the work that makes the show such a compelling experience. (Monica Westin)
Through September 13 at the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan.