"Drawing Now": Moma Qns, New York. (Reviews)

By Griffin, Tim | Artforum International, January 2003 | Go to article overview

"Drawing Now": Moma Qns, New York. (Reviews)


Griffin, Tim, Artforum International


Drawing has a genealogy, suggests MOMA guest curator Laura Hoptman: Variously appreciated and dismissed in different periods, the medium has played a changing role for artists and audiences to go along with the changing contexts of art production. For example, she asserts that Florentine connoisseurs prized the Renaissance masters' primi pensieri, while "presentation drawings" were highly valued in the eighteenth century. Fast-forwarding a couple centuries, she tells us we've witnessed another significant shift in just the past few decades. When Conceptualism and Minimalism came to the fore, drawing became valued for its relative ephemerality, almost always associated with the artist's gesture--with "making" or, to use a loaded term, with "process," regardless of whether the artist's action scarred the land or stroked the paper. Then in the '90s, a new breed of draftsman appeared on the scene: Artists conceived and executed drawings that stood alone as finished, autonomous works of art. While "drawing" was on ce called a verb by Richard Serra, Hoptman notes--using the artist's celebrated 1977 remark as a straw man in one essay accompanying the show--today it is better thought of as a noun. And to illustrate her case, in "Drawing Now: Eight Propositions," she has grouped good-looking work by twenty-six contemporary artists under eight rubrics, declaring a kind of taxonomy for our moment.

Scholars may find these historical generalizations somewhat odd, but even more curious was the exhibition's historicism. For all their announced empirical relationship to today, the various propositions appeared to take their cues from art history, even charting an unspoken, chapter-by-chapter chronological course through the galleries. The show opened with massive, mottled renderings of Alpine woods by Ugo Rondinone; in a low-lying vitrine were Russell Crotty's equally immense landscapes. The proposition here, "Science and Art, Nature and Artifice," evoked some of the earliest significant instances of scientific drawing--done from nature by, say, Leonardo da Vinci. In the next room, the rococo patterns of Laura Owens and Chris Ofili appeared under "Ornament." (Think Watteau as the match for their decorative forays.) Viewers then passed through sections titled "Architectural Drafting" and "Visionary Architecture," where Julie Mehretu and Paul Noble appeared (shades of Piranesi?). One could discover the fantas ies of William Blake reborn in Matthew Ritchie's long horizontal sheets in the "Cosmogenies" section. Fast sketches by Elizabeth Peyton and Graham Little's brilliantly cold drawings made after advertisements in "Fashion and Likeness" bring to mind a nineteenth-century artist like Baudelaire's favorite, Constantin Guys. A final room included Shahzia Sikander and Kara Walker in "Vernacular Illustration," and Barry McGee and Takashi Murakami in "Comics and Animation," with this duo's interests breaking the high-low barrier--punctuating the show, in effect, with postmodernist pastiche.

"Drawing Now," in other words, was dressed in the heavy cloak of "Then." Individual pieces, however executed, were placed under a thematic lock, made the property of single ideas. And yet nothing put so much stress on Hoptman's taxonomy as the pieces on view. Ritchie, for example, seemed strangely neutered when considered without reference to comic-book culture. The decorative quality of Chris Ofili's work was equaled by that of Sikander's, yet one was categorized as ornament and the other as vernacular culture, eliminating any chance for poetic correspondence that might have arisen through their juxtaposition. …

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