Guggenheim
The 1960s was one of the most turbulent decades of the twentieth century for culture and politics. The United States had become an industrialized society, preparing itself for the dawn of the Information Age. The economic growth and prosperity experienced in the post–World War II years and the early Cold War period in the 1950s created a vigorous consumer culture on both sides of the Atlantic. Pop art emerges as a movement that began in Britain but reached the height of its fame with American artists like Andy Warhol (b. 1928; d. 1987), whose work can be interpreted as a critique or celebration of pop culture.
In this context, Robert Rauschenberg (b. 1925; d. 2008) and Cy Twombly (b. 1928; d. 2011), two important actors on the late twentieth-century art stage who had already developed their own distinctive visual language by the mid-1950s, presented two of their most significant artworks in New York. In 1963 the Jewish Museum hosted Rauschenberg’s first major retrospective, where he showed Barge (1962– 63), a work completed in practically 24 hours and one of the best examples of the dynamic silkscreened paintings he began to produce in the 1960s. The following year, Twombly returned to New York to present Nine Discourses on Commodus (1963), his first work comprising a group of individual yet indivisible canvases, at the Leo Castelli Gallery. In this piece, Twombly weaves a frenetic narrative inspired by the delirious reign of Emperor Aurelius Commodus (b. 161; d. 192 AD). Both Barge and Nine Discourses on Commodus were harshly criticized by Minimal artist Donald Judd (b. 1928; d. 1994) when they were first unveiled; however, in the years that followed they became iconic works and are now considered seminal milestones in the history of twentieth-century art.
The works full of repetitions, variations, cross-outs, and spelling mistakes by American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (b. 1960; d. 1988), one of the most celebrated painters of his generation, were received very differently. Man from Naples (1982) was inspired by his visit to Italy in 1982 and reflects the artist’s feelings of resentment toward his wealthy Italian patron, whom he scornfully refers to as a “pork merchant” and other unflattering epithets. Most of the pictorial surface is taken up by a chaotic jumble of scrawls, words, numbers, symbols, and colors. The resulting effect is that of a crowd of shouting, echoing, responding voices.