Exhibition Reviews: Drawings by Sculptors

By Grove, Nancy | Art Journal, Winter 1994 | Go to article overview

Exhibition Reviews: Drawings by Sculptors


Grove, Nancy, Art Journal


Douglas Dreishpoon. Between Transcendence and Brutality: American Sculptural Drawings from the 1940s and 1950s. Tampa, Fla.: Tampa Museum of Art, 1994. 112 pp.; 7 color ills., many b/w. $15.00

Exhibition schedule: Tampa Museum of Art, January 30-April 3, 1994; Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock, July 15-September 1, 1994; Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, New York, September 24-November 7, 1994

Sculptors draw for as wide a variety of reasons as do painters, but the relationship between drawing and sculpture is made more complex by the gap between two dimensions and three. Drawings serve as studies or models for works in progress, or, as in Rodin's drawings over photographs of his sculptures, they are ways of exploring possible changes in an existing piece. Drawing also provides a method of notation for ideas that would be difficult or impossible to realize in three dimensions; or it can be a way of exploring interests altogether different from those of sculpture.

Whether used as an independent activity or as a way of thinking about, rethinking, or dreaming of sculpture, drawing has become especially important in the twentieth century. Although a growing plurality of new styles and materials has been available to modern and contemporary sculptors, the concept behind each piece has also been valued consistently and increasingly over the craft of making it. Because drawings provide access to originating ideas along with primary evidence of the artist's hand at work, they have become especially important. They are more and more considered as artworks in their own right as well, as traditional distinctions between art forms are blurred or erased by new technologies and attitudes.

One result of this emerging interest has been the intermixing of drawings with other kinds of works in museum and gallery installations and exhibitions. While this practice puts a larger number of drawings before the public, it may not increase their literal visibility much, since lighting must be kept very dim to protect works on paper. More scholarly and public interest in drawings has also resulted in a greater number of large-scale exhibitions devoted primarily or exclusively to them, such as the recent Between Transcendence and Brutality: American Sculptural Drawings of the 1940s and 1950s, which included one hundred thirty-nine drawings and eleven sculptures by Louise Bourgeois, Dorothy Dehner, Herbert Ferber, Seymour Lipton, Isamu Noguchi, Theodore Roszak, and David Smith. The exhibition was organized by Douglas Dreishpoon, curator of the Tampa Museum of Art, who also wrote the catalogue. All of the works in the exhibition were culled from private sources, mainly from the artists (or their estates or foundations) and their dealers. This method of assembling an exhibition has the advantage of making the gathering of large numbers of works relatively easy; the disadvantage could be that those pieces do not represent the artist's best work from the period under review. Fortunately, all seven of these sculptors were deeply involved with a variety of different kinds of drawings, so that it was possible to get a reasonable idea of their concerns from the show. Because their concerns differed widely, the exhibition was more like a visual conversation in which a variety of topics was introduced rather than like seven people addressing the same issues.

Sculptors of the generation that was born early in the twentieth century shared a vocabulary drawn from elements of Cubism, Surrealism, and Constructivism, but they used it to express their feelings and ideas about everything from politics to personal relationships, and their highly individualistic approaches are equally evident in their drawings. Bourgeois, the youngest of the seven, is represented by untitled ink drawings that evidence some of her main themes in the 1940s and 1950s: body parts mixed with architectural or landscape elements, repeated swag or bladelike shapes that are suspended or erect, and densely stroked forms that look like composite creatures made of hair and grass. …

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