by Drew Martin
I usually think about what a museum has to offer by the content of the shows but the Drawing Center in SoHo takes it to another level with superb curation of great exhibits related to drawing.
Drawing is my favorite, most intimate medium and has been a big part of my life, especially because my name is Drew, so I am always pleased when the Drawing Center expands that boundary of what drawing is, and in the case of the current show makes me realize that something else I really like, hand sewing, is part of this medium as well.
The main current exhibit is Thread Lines:
This group exhibition features sixteen artists who engage in sewing, knitting, and weaving to create a wide-range of works that activate the expressive and conceptual potential of line and illuminate affinities between the mediums of textile and drawing. Multi-generational in scope, Thread Lines brings together those pioneers who—challenging entrenched modernist hierarchies—first unraveled the distinction between textile and art with a new wave of contemporary practitioners who have inherited and expanded upon their groundbreaking gestures.
The first thing you notice when you walk into the main gallery is an installation around the four cast iron support columns in the center of the room. It is a special project by Anne Wilson called To Cross (Walking New York), which is explained on the Drawing Center's website:
After discovering that The Drawing Center’s SoHo building was originally built in 1866 for the Positive Motion Loom Company, Chicago-based artist Anne Wilson conceived of her latest site-specific performance that will use the main gallery’s four central columns as a weaving loom. Recalling the physical structure and operations of the loom itself, the piece’s four participants “walk” around the twelve foot columns, carrying a spool of thread to form a standard weaving cross (a method used to keep warp threads in order). The durational performance, which takes place over the course of two months, will result in the fabrication of a five by thirty-four foot sculpture: a colorful cross composed of innumerable strands of thread.
On the back wall is a narrow mural with line drawings of fruit. This is highlighted with small rings of intensely detailed needlepoint that contain a reproduction of the source of the drawings with colorful and dense stitches that bring the original fruit to life in thread. And there are a dozen more needlework examples around the gallery that challenge the scale and presentation of what sewing can be, what thread can do, and once more what drawing is all about as an action and as an expression of lines.
In the back room is another, very different show called Head Drawings and Faces of War by Xanti Schawinsky, who was a first-generation Bauhaus artist. The drawings are amazing hybrids of machine and man, or at least personalities of man. They are also quite large and really well done but the problem I had with them is that you see them after walking through Thread Lines, which is a beautiful show with a lot of aesthetic sensations. So when I got to Schawinsky's work, the contrast was not a shocking difference that made me grasp the political meaning of the drawings but rather made me focus on the quality of them. They are powerful work done in a crucially important time, between 1941 and 1946 and I think they would have benefited from being part of a larger wartime show in the main gallery.
The list of participants in Thread Lines includes:
Mónica Bengoa (b. 1969, Santiago, Chile), Louise Bourgeois (b. 1911, Paris, France- d. 2010, New York, NY), Sheila Hicks (b. 1934, Hastings, NE), Ellen Lesperance (b. 1971, Minneapolis, MN), Kimsooja (b. 1957, Taegu, Korea), Beryl Korot (b. 1945, New York, NY), Maria Lai (b. 1919, Ulassai, Sardinia- d. 2013, Cardedu, Sardinia), Sam Moyer (b. 1983, Chicago, IL), William J. O'Brien (b. 1975, Eastlake, OH), Robert Otto Epstein (b. 1979, Pittsburgh, PA), Jessica Rankin (b. 1971, Sydney, Australia), Elaine Reichek (b. 1943, New York, NY), Drew Shiflett (b. 1951, Chicago, IL), Alan Shields (b. 1944, Herington, KS- d. 2005, Shelter Island, NY), Lenore Tawney (b. 1907, Lorain, OH- d. 2007, New York, NY), and Anne Wilson (b. 1949, Detroit, MI).