New York

“European Drawings”

Lawrence Alloway must be praised for his selection and installation of a difficult exhibition, a survey of post-Second World War European Drawing. Difficult, because drawing shows normally are only barrel scrapings, makeshift affairs thrown up before a “real” exhibition of painting and sculpture arrives. Alloway honors these drawings by treating them like paintings and sculptures.

European Drawings plays down the role of the individual artist, but emphasizes the work as representative elements in large progressive configurations. Accompanied by an alert text, the catalog includes arresting statements by the artists as well as a biblio-biographical listing. The exhibition goes a long way in illuminating stylistic features which, without this broad compendium, might have been virtually invisible.

European Drawings is especially helpful in widening our view of CoBrA expressionism, encountered in formulations outside the familiar geographical indications of Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam. CoBrA, if anything, now seems a moribund issue, and yet Alloway’s selection is sharp enough to make us appreciate this movement, possibly for the first time.

The show also clarifies some of the effects that Marcel Duchamp has had on his (initially) home ground. They are quite different than the pictorial conventions related to popular imagery that Duchamp spurred here in America (and in great measure in England). The continental artists behind whose drawing Duchamp looms as an “eminence grise” (artists, incidentally, whose larger production might seemingly bear no viable relation to Dadaistic postulates) tend to emphasize the hermetic, mechanistic character of the doodles and diagrams of The Green Box.

To select outstanding examples from 146 works by 37 artists is foolhardy. Still, certain figures, possibly because of their unfamiliarity, or because of striking analogies worked out by Alloway, seem noteworthy. Jean Ipousteguy’s (France) spotty and tentative drawing shockingly contrasts with the dense formal sculpture derived from Duchamp-Villon, for which he is so well known. This friability and stomped crumbly touch is also favored by Josef Mikl (Austria) and Roel d’Haese (Belgium).

Expressionist elements are attested to by Lucebert’s (Holland) infantilism, in the paranoid compulsiveness of Bernard Requichot (France) who was a suicide in 1961, and are clearly present in the automatism of Asger Jorn (Denmark) who with Carl-Henning Pedersen (Denmark) made up the Copenhagen faction of CoBrA. Oddly enough, Lucebert’s regression is also close in flavor to Henri Michaux’s (Belgium-France) mescalinized and delicate gaucheries. These in turn can readily be associated with the Eastern exquisiteness of Wols’ (Germany-France) picture post cards from Xanadu. By far the strangest similarity is the way in which Oyvind Fahlstrom’s (Sweden) illuminist comic strips retain something of Wols’ fragility for all the former’s demonic wackiness.

A cooler point of view is promoted by Enrico Castellani (Italy) and Gunther Uecker (Germany), both represented by old fashioned intaglio relief prints. The flame paintings by Zero’s Otto Piene (Germany) inevitably recall the late Yves Klein (France) who is represented by architectural Studies for Luminous Fountains.

The Duchampesque is as sensible in Baruchello’s (Italy) doggerel cartography as it is in Piotr Kowalski’s (Poland-France) Green Box diagrams. Even more startling, it appears too in Etienne-Martin’s (France) hop-scotch courts (startling because of the sculptor’s impassioned Expressionist stance). In a certain measure the current machinomorphic mode is Duchamp-inspired.

We find it still in the Machine Studies of Tinguely (Switzerland-France) as well as in the Hermaphroditic Idols of Eduardo Paolozzi (Scotland-England). Alloway’s contrast of Tapies (Spain) and Lucio Fontana (Argentina-Italy) revealed similarities in minimally fixed compositions built out of smudges, scribbles, scratches and other anti-draftsman—pro-surface tensions. In this sense Dubuffet’s (France) aleatory “Texturologies” might be associated with these figures.

Surprisingly little sexual-surrealization was present except for Dado’s (Yugoslavia-France) Boschian vision of ganglion-bangs, and in an Abstract Expressionist genre, Wolfgang Hollegha’s (Austria) Gorkyish expansions around vaginal apertures. Despite William Scott’s (Scotland-England) subject matter, the Reclining Nude, nothing erotic came through. Scott’s linear distillations seem all the more puritanical when we observe his model’s gartered stockings.

A fair sampling of English Op and Pop was present ranging from Peter Blake’s free Souvenir of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre to Gillian Ayres tropical gift wrappings. Richard Hamilton sent coals to Newcastle with his Artschwagerian pastel-gouache of “The Solomon R. Guggenheim.”

Robert Pincus-Witten