First, I am continually heartened by the Louvre’s efforts to keep its collection alive. And I have expressed my admiration for the institution’s willingness and openness to self-reflection through its invitation of contemporary artists, student performances and interactive tours into its hallowed halls. Twombly’s The Ceiling belongs to this unique and courageous pattern of innovation. He is the third living artist to be invited to contribute to the permanent collection, Anselm Kiefer and François Morellet being the first two. I think what I love most about The Ceiling has nothing directly to do with the Twombly design—it’s not a Twombly painting as it was executed and hung entirely by others, and it’s not even particularly Twombly-esque. Nevertheless, the painted ceiling draws people into the Salle des Bronzes, a section of the museum that I had never been. And perhaps in the spirit of Twombly’s other work, The Ceiling has an understatedness about it that finds visitors examining the delicate bronze treasures in the vitrines, rather than examining the ceiling. Certainly, my friends and I quickly drifted into reveries of where we might wear the exquisite bronze jewelry, and I wanted to smother the very sensuous Greek and Etruscan Antiquities, they were so beautiful. The ceiling is like a blanket over these priceless and inconceiveably beautiful objects. Like so much of what is on display at the Louvre, these extraordinary pieces are beyond description, their richness and fineness so foreign to anything in my reality that I feel as though I have fallen into another world, a magical world, when I am in the Salle des Bronzes. And because The Ceiling does not offer much to contemplate, it’s a credit to the Louvre as well as Twombly that visitors find what it is they are meant to be contemplating in the Salle des Bronzes.
As I say, unlike Kiefer’s and Morellet’s contributions, Twombly’s is completely removed from the type of art that makes him one of the greatest living painters. Indeed, Twombly followers would not recognize this as a Twombly creation. In a very rare interview that the Louvre has included in an accompanying publication, Twombly himself acknowledges that The Ceiling is something other than his characteristically ephemeral and mystical canvases. There is nothing here to look at as everything is so circumscribed. One of the great joys of being with Twombly’s paintings is the sense of going on a journey, together, with him, and without him, just me and the painting that has been deliberately left unfinished, or better, open, waiting for me to complete it. There are no lines running off the side of canvases, there are no fading thoughts, no receding colors on this ceiling. The Ceiling is definite, consistent, forthright even. Not only is the work framed very definitively by the four walls that surround it, but the brushstrokes are finite, complete, representational, if somewhat abstract. We have no sense of the artist at work, the movements of his mind and his hand, across, around, stumbling upon something troubling on a canvas. In short, we are not given the opportunity to engage with The Ceiling as painting, to fall into it or be consumed by it. Rather, we strain our necks upwards, and after a while, return to marveling at the world on display down below. The Ceiling’s real vista being the bright, erotic eye that it invites us to cast over the treasures at ground level.
On the night we visited, as you can see in Anne’s photos, the sunlight striated the west facing salle. This was the real treat of the evening. The bronzes in their vitrines shone so brightly that they were all but singing while the sun set, as if just outside the window. And it was difficult not to be seduced by the elegance of statues such as this one below, his poise made proud by the warmth of the sun on his chest. As his shadow walks contemplatively away from him, we come to believe the magic and myths of ancient times have been transmitted down through the centuries to the Louvre, a place where the Gods still hold sway.
Photos copyright Anne Steichen