Exhibition Books

Cy Twombly
Making Past Present

Christine Kondoleon with Kate Nesin, with contributions by Anne Carson, Jennifer R. Gross, Brooke Holmes, and Mary Jacobus
Format Regular Price Member Price
Hardcover $65.00

ISBN 978-0-87846-874-4; 264 pages; 9.5 x 11 in.; 170 color illustrations

Cy Twombly’s first visit to Italy as a young man ignited a lifelong passion for the ancient world that is everywhere present in his art. Painted canvases, works on paper, and small-scale sculptures reveal the historical soul of Twombly’s abstract compositions. Taking on classical myths and heroes as personal guides, he created a psychologically complex dialogue with the visual and literary arts of antiquity.

This sumptuously illustrated book reproduces a carefully chosen selection of the artist’s paintings, drawings, and sculptures alongside works of classical antiquity, including a number from his personal collection. Illuminating essays by leading scholars explore the profound and often enigmatic engagement of Twombly’s art with the world of the past.

Editorial reviews

"The Museum of Fine Arts was scheduled to present an exhibit of the work of Cy Twombly, he of the rich, flaming scrawls on classical themes, to open this past July, but pandemic disruptions postponed it. To tide over Twombly fans until the paintings can be seen again in person, an elegant and comprehensive exhibition catalogue has been published by the MFA Press. “Making Past Present” contextualizes Twombly’s singular gestural verve. “Modern Art isn’t dislocated,” he wrote in an early grant application, “but something with roots, tradition and continuity. For myself the past is the source.” In his deranged handwriting, Twombly scribbles the names of gods, goddesses, heroic figures, Athena, Hercules, Thetis, Zeus, as though clutching a crayon in his fist. A beating sense of blood and time pulses from his canvases, a frenzied aliveness. His are works of heat, blooming blasts not so much of pure color, though that, too, but of energy, an energy of one hand being moved by the force of stories in Time. Anne Carson, in the essay she contributes to the book, bringing together the work of Twombly and the lyric poet Catullus, refers to the “sheer velocity” of Twombly’s work."
—Nina MacLaughlin, The Boston Globe
"Photographs of Cy Twombly’s home in Rome, with its baroque golden chairs and severe-looking marble busts, reveal that the artist, known for his modernist, abstract expressionist paintings, was in fact fascinated by antiquity. This obsession forms the subject of a new book on his work, Cy Twombly: Making Past Present, which places the artist’s paintings, drawings and sculptures alongside classical works, including some from his own collection, and essays from writers such as Anne Carson and Brooke Holmes."
—Baya Simons, Financial Times

"In this pandemic year of missing most everything, we’ve been trained to look for silver linings wherever possible. So here’s mine: The book, which I got a few months back, is gorgeous."
—Murray Whyte, The Boston Globe

"This expertly researched book, published by the MFA Publications, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston—which Twombly attended—showcases the artist’s sculptures, works on paper, and paintings alongside classical works of antiquity, revealing the historical inspiration. The sumptuously illustrated book includes a number of pieces from the artist’s personal collection along with detailed essays, written by leading scholars, to offer a deeper look at an artist more often associated with scribble abstract compositions. For any collector who believes they know Cy Twombly, this book provides a different facet of the artist and the often-enigmatic engagement he had with the past."
—Douglas King, Patron Magazine

About the Author

Christine Kondoleon is George D. and Margo Behrakis Chair, Art of Ancient Greece and Rome, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Kate Nesin is Adjunct Curator, Contemporary Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.