Allgemeine und Vergleichende Literaturwissenschaft
Twombly’s Anatomy of Melancholy
Alfred C. Goodson
- A wall-sized canvas by Twombly hanging in a purpose-built pavilion by Renzo Piano, commissioned by the Menil Collection in Houston, bears the scrawled inscription »Anatomy of Melancholy.« Untitled (Say Goodbye Catullus, to the Shores of Asia Minor) is the culminating statement of the artist’s maturity: begun in 1972, it was first exhibited in 1994. In this monumental cenotaph, Twombly’s painting displays phrases from Archilochos, Catullus, Keats and Rilke, as well as the title of Burton’s famous tome, worked into the fabric of the composition, integral to the iconic content. It is the aching heart of the select permanent exhibition of his oeuvre at the pavilion, known as the Twombly Gallery (www.menil.org/twombly.html). The austerity of Piano’s architectural setting, as well as the cunningly filtered Texas sunlight, makes this a site of cult, like the chapel containing the dark, final canvases of Mark Rothko, situated around the corner in the same urban grove of old oak. The setting is a modern Dodona, remote seat of the oaken oracle of Zeus, and it makes an evocative home for Twombly’s enigmatic constructions. These disarm conventional vocabularies of aesthetic response, drawing attention to words and snatches of verse as points of association and recognition. Looking at them involves siting a phrase such as »Anatomy of Melancholy« in other dimensions – in lines, patches, figures, colors.