In 1964 an exhibition in New York City of Cy Twombly's cycle of paintings Nine Discourses on Commodus received excoriating reviews for being "too European." But Twombly was often out of step with his place and time. In the early 1950s he traveled in Italy and North Africa with Robert Rauschenberg in search of ancient cultures. He went into exile in Rome in 1957, but he never lost his affection for his birthplace of Virginia or his laconic Southern humor and way of speaking.
Through the '60s and '70s, his paintings continued to evoke Greek and Roman myths, history and poetry with a bucolic sense of nature and often a strong sexual charge. In the '80s he won new admirers among younger artists like Julian Schnabel. It wasn't until 1994 that his achievement in renewing the language of classical painting was recognized by a major retrospective at New York's Museum of Modern Art. And in such late cycles as his ravishing, haunting Four Seasons (1993-94), he held his own with the great masters.
Serota is the director of the Tate in London
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