Friday, May 27, 2011

The Paper-Free Drawing Center

by Drew Martin

One thing about The Drawing Center is that it likes to go out on a limb. This is in part due to its very narrow mission "to focus solely on the exhibition of drawings." With certain shows one might perceive that the Center is interested in anything but drawings, however, the scope is broadened by the Center's loose definition of drawing.

Drawing down on Wooster Street is an all-encompassing term, akin to thing or stuff, because it references anything with a line/edge/border/direction, which includes wire, yarn, a tree branch, even the narrative of a video.

The current show Drawing and its Double, which displays the printing plates of various artists since the 16th Century without their respective prints, may seem like a stretch but it is one of the Center's more conservative exhibits.

The paper-free concept so perplexed the Instituto Nazionale per la Grafica that it initially declined to part with these pieces from their collection. After seeing the show realized, the Institute has asked permission from The Drawing Center to show it (as is) in Rome, where the Institute is based.

The exhibition is quite remarkable. Shown in chronological order (starting with Giorgio Ghisi, whose work is pictured above-left), the progression of the plates reveal an evolution in styles and printmaking techniques. Even though all of the plates have a very tangible and sculptural presence, what we see from the 1960s on is an experimentation with the surfaces and imagery.

One of these is Umberto Mastroianni's plate for Lo stregone, which is engraved on lead and has holes in it. Pictured right is a print from the plate (not on display at The Drawing Center). The pure white circles and triangular spaces correspond to the rough holes in the plate.

The Drawing Center does not show the prints in order to focus on the plates as objects, the way perhaps a museum of technology would, but to emphasize the process, effort and skill of the artists' involvement with the plates. While making prints from a plate is a repetitive reproduction process, the preparation of the plates is where the true act of drawing is transferred and captured.

The problem with the show is that many of the glimmering surfaces are very difficult to see because of how they are hung and lit. Investing in non-glare glass would have been a wiser decision: the plates are ingeniously sandwiched in plexiglass so they float within the frames but the protective panes reflect you, the viewer, and the Center's interior. Magnifying glasses with small lights are available for the viewers but they are cheap aids and do not help that much...although they do like cool when you see someone else using them, as if they are scanning the works with a tricorder.

In the center of the space is a specially designed Drawing Room (it used to be across the street in a garage of a location). This area is designated to Paolo Canevari's show Decalogo. Although this body of work was originally commissioned and exhibited by the Istituto Nazionale per la Grafica it seems a little out of place. The ten oversized nickel plates are flashy. The etched and inked images
are cartoonish and blatant, such as the one of his burning skull, pictured below-left.

As explained by the Drawing Center:

Decalogo, the Italian shorthand for the Ten Commandments and perhaps the most well-known social contract or "rules to live by," continues Canevari’s investigation into how dynamic imagery can reveal political and social crises. The plates reverberate on both technical and emotional levels, and lay bare the artist’s acute and perceptive understanding of our times.

That being said, the biblical references do not affect me as much as they would someone from a strong Catholic background. It reminds me of one of my first art reviews for a show by Javier Velasco, “Linea Sutil” (Subtle Line). While I liked it and wrote favorably of it, the work was heavy in religious references, which lost their impact on me.