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Exhibition at Museum of Modern Art in New York Challenges Definition of Drawing
Cildo Meireles (Brazilian, born 1948), Meshes of Freedom I. 1976. Cotton rope. 47 1/4 x 47 1/4" (120 x 120 cm) Collection the artist, courtesy Galerie Lelong and Galeria Luisa Strina. Photo by Wilton Montenegro © 2010 Ciildo Meireles, courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York.
NEW YORK, NY.- On Line: Drawing Through the Twentieth Century, on view at MoMA from November 21, 2010, through February 7, 2011, aims to challenge the conventional definition of drawing as a work on paper by exploring the radical transformation of the medium throughout the last century, a period when numerous artists critically examined the traditional concepts of drawing and expanded its definition in relation to gesture and form. The exhibition brings together approximately 300 works, many drawn from MoMA’s collection, by over 100 artists—both canonical and less well-known—from over 20 nations. Crossing disciplinary boundaries, these works relate drawing to selections of painting, sculpture, photography, film, and dance (represented by films and documentation, as well as live performances). The exhibition is organized by Connie Butler, The Robert Lehman Foundation Chief Curator of Drawings, The Museum of Modern Art, and Guest Curator Catherine de Zegher, former Director, The Drawing Center, New York (recently appointed as Co-Director of the 18th Biennale of Sydney).

Deriving its title from the essay ―On Line,‖ which Vasily Kandinsky wrote in 1919–20, On Line follows artists’ exploration of line as the basic element of drawing over a century and, consequently, argues for an extended field of the medium: the cutting and pasting of collage; sketching in notebooks; tracing with pen and ink; outlining with pencil, crayon, or charcoal; winding with wire and strips of cloth; wrapping and binding; and line etched on canvas or in the land. The exhibition is organized chronologically in three sections that examine different stages of this aesthetic exploration: Surface Tension considers the artistic drive to represent movement within a flat picture plane; Line Extension includes works in which lines extend beyond flatness into real time and space; and Confluence presents contemporary works in which line and background are fused, giving significance to the space between lines.

Through the work of a diverse group of artists, including Alexander Rodchenko, who wrote about ―The Line‖ as module and movement, and Lygia Clark, who proposed the ―organic line‖ in the 1960s, On Line argues for an expanded history of drawing that moves off the page and into space and time—as the path of a moving point or a human body in motion (the dancer tracing dynamic lines across the stage, the wandering artist tracing lines across the land). The exhibition thus includes works addressing dance, such as Gino Severini’s Dancer (1912), Vaslaw Nijinsky’s Tänzerin (1917–18), and works made by prominent dancers, such as Françoise Sullivan’s Danse dans la neige, #1–17 (1948) and Trisha Brown’s Untitled (2007), along with films of dancers William Forsythe and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker. A series of live performances will be presented in the Museum’s Donald B. and Catherine C. Marron Artium in January. As installments of MoMA’s ongoing Performance Exhibition Series, these works address the idea of line as a trajectory of the human body through space. The featured artists include the Trisha Brown Dance Company, Marie Cool and Fabio Balducci, Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, Ralph Lemon, and Xavier LeRoy.

The exhibition begins in the Museum’s lobby with Arturo Herrera’s Walk/14 Parts (2009), for which he repurposed his drawings into digital form for the nine lobby screens. Installed in The Agnes Gund Garden Lobby is Zilvinas Kempinas’s Double O (2008), which consists of two strands of magnetic tape that are kept afloat and take on various shapes in the wind created by two industrial fans. Hanging from the ceiling on the sixth floor is Ranjani Shettar’s Just a bit more (2005–06), made of thread dyed in tea. Two Parallel Lines (1976–2010), by Luis Camnitzer, which welcomes visitors into the first gallery, consists of one line drawn with detritus and one line of phrases defining drawing written in pencil. The work is an example of a line-generating process that flows from an exchange of responses between making and material.

The first section of the exhibition introduces the Cubist drawings of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso and the integration of collage into avant-garde art by the Cubists in 1912—among the most radical innovations in drawing of the twentieth century. Among the inspirations for the Cubist drive to construct movement within the flat picture plane were motion pictures and onstage dance, such as the performances of Loie Fuller. The desire for space in the plane of the surface was further explored in the open-form concept of the Russian Constructivists, who, by the early 1920s, expanded the notion of sculptural form through their exploration of energy and movement, as in Rodchenko’s, Non-Objective Painting (1919) or Spatial Construction, No. 12 (c. 1920). Similar attempts had been undertaken by the Italian Futurists, as seen in drawings by Umberto Boccioni.

Between 1923 and 1928, El Lissitzky was among the first of his generation to visualize a new, radical geometry of space and movement that blurred the boundaries of architecture, painting, drawing, and typography. Visitors will be able to experience the gravity-defying sensation of Lissitzky’s geometric shapes and linear vectors wrapping around corners and launching to the ceiling in a reconstruction of the artist’s Proun Room. Artists represented in this section also include Alexander Calder, Marcel Duchamp, Paul Klee, František Kupka, Lyubov Popova, Kurt Schwitters, and Sophie Taeuber-Arp.

The middle section begins in the late 1940s and 1950s, when the spatial expression of line as embodying an engagement with drawing can be traced through an investigation of the painted surface by artists working in Europe, Japan, Latin America, and the United States. Luciano Fontana advocated escaping from the imprisoning flat surface to explore the dynamic concepts of movement, time, and space through his famous holes and linear cuts, as in Spatial Concept (1957). Whereas some artists were interested in the absence of lines as gaps that make the surface dynamic, causing the work to spill over and contaminate space, others, like Anna Maria Maiolino and Pierrette Bloch, became increasingly preoccupied by the material presence of the line in actual space, using things such as thread and horse hair to mend the gap and refocus on the intertexture of two-dimensional plane and three-dimensional space, as seen in Maiolino’s Desde A até M (From A to M), from the series "Mapas Mentais" (“Mental Maps”) (1972–99), and Bloch’s Fil de Crin works, made with horse hair, from the 1980s.

The end of the 1960s was shaped by revolutionary thinking, and artists were taking a radical stance by attacking the values of established institutions of government, industry, and culture, and even questioning whether art as the private expression of the individual still had an ethical reason to exist. Concurrent with the radical experimentation of postwar European art was the work of artists in Eastern Europe (Edward Krasiński, Karel Malich); Latin America (Leon Ferrari in Argentina, Lygia Clark, Mira Schendel, Cildo Meireles, and Anna Maria Maiolino in Brazil, Jesús Rafael Soto and Gego in Venezuela, and Cecilia Vicuna in Chile/New York); and North America (Eva Hesse, Robert Ryman, Richard Tuttle). Working from very different cultural positions, these artists explored the line apart from figurative representation, seeking instead an essence of form, and occupation of ―real‖ or dimensional space.

The grid, formed by the intersection of multiple lines, became a touchstone for many artists in the later half of the twentieth century. While artists like Sol Lewitt, with his sculpture Cubic Construction: Diagonal 4, Opposite Corners 1 and 4 Units (1971), explored the regularity and infinite spatial possibilities of the grid, for artists like Cildo Meireles the intersection of lines was more politically resonant, as in his Malhas da Liberdade (Meshes of Freedom) series from the 1970s. Cornelia Parker’s recent wire drawings from 2009, created out of metal extracted from bullets, link this classic form with the political realities of modern society.

The last section contains documentary works based on a number of outdoor projects that use line as a mapping device or a metaphor for a kind of nomadic movement of the body through time and space. Iain and Ingrid Baxter (the N.E. Thing Company) created works on the west coast of Canada by skiing in the snow (One Mile Skied Line – 1968). Michael Heizer realized his motorcycle drawings on dry lake beds in Nevada, seen in the photograph documentation of the performance, Circular Surface Planar Displacement Drawing (1970). Emily Kam Kngwarray, an Aboriginal artist, created her painting Wild Potato (1989) while sitting on the ground, using a network of lines that is meant to represent the spread of roots and vines in the Australian outback.

Artists today thrive on the interdependency of drawing, printing, painting, sculpture, and performance, of surface and space, and mostly of line and support, whether on paper, floor, or wall. For contemporary artists, drawing goes beyond the sheet of paper—a process that is often materialized by extrapolating lines into space—as seen in the site-specific works in the exhibition and also in the work of such artists as Marie Cool and Fabio Balducci, Avis Newman, Joëlle Tuerlinckx, Julie Mehretu, Edith Dekyndt, and Sophie Tottie. Monika Gryzmala creates site-responsive installations with tape and paper, creating lines that merge with and depart from the walls and planes of the gallery space. Her work Untitled (skeleton of a drawing) (2010) is installed outside the exhibition’s exit, above the doorway, and spills down onto the wall of the Marron Atrium.

Museum of Modern Art | Connie Butler | Catherine de Zegher | On Line: Drawing Through the Twentieth Century |


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