New York

Jules Olitski, Sol LeWitt, Brice Marden, Agnes Martin, David Novros, Eva Hesse, Jan Dibbets and Dorothea Rockburne

Bykert Gallery

The Group Drawing Show at the Bykert Gallery demonstrates that drawings are still of major importance to artists. But, for the most part, there was a lack of energy and involvement in the work, almost as if they were shown because of a moral attachment to the activity even when not essential to the other forms of an artist’s work. Where drawing is a fundamental element, as in Oldenburg’s baroque forms or Olitski’s brushed lines, the graphic qualities of traditional drawing are retained throughout. Otherwise it seems necessary to transform drawing, as LeWitt has done, into a self-sustained body of work.

In the Bykert show, only Brice Marden and, to some extent, Agnes Martin, push drawing, as a form important in itself, to particularly rich conclusions. Marden uses simple geometric divisions of black and white, black and black, or white on white, building them up with graphite and wax until the textures counterpoint each other—matte and reflective, porous and smooth. Because of the eccentricities of the surface, the feeling is not one of strict geometry but of loose rigor generating warmth and light. Marden seems to understand the inherent potentialities of his materials so well that drawing has become a personal and strong form not subsumed in the aims of his painting.

Agnes Martin’s drawings also stand up on their own, promoting the mystical flicker of her paintings on a diminutive scale by slightly destroying the regularity of the work—lines wobble, thicken, fade. But it can be said of Martin that all of her work is drawing, and in this light, the drawings in the Bykert seem like blueprints for larger works in which she has tested certain markings. On such small scale, particularly with pen, she has not been able to get the variety and control of the colored pencil lines she often uses. The most successful drawing is one on tangerine waffle-paper in which every section is dotted making the white spots appear as highlights on a shaded grid.

Many of the drawings in the show were clearly meant only as studies for painting or sculpture; David Novros and Eva Hesse seem to have used drawing to test and alter relationships for use in other works. Drawing as a study transforms it into a stand-in, a way of supposing what is not there. It can be used more literally to convey information to the viewer; when it does so, it calls attention to the information rather than to the way in which it is expressed, like an illustrated manual of arms. It is read rather than seen. Jan Dibbets’ drawing, for example, is a literal and figurative projection distorting the same image until it becomes one continuous landscape. One is asked to suppose a possibility beyond what is given.

Drawing, however, need not be traditional in its materials. As an activity, it can perhaps be defined by intention rather than means of execution. It can be seen as a relationship, as one form in the service of another. Consequently, Dorothea Rockburne’s photographs and pinned-up masonite and paper are exhibited as drawings. The photographs of rock surfaces, glistening water, and beads of condensation are not successful, as photographs, but may be regarded as drawings for the more complete To Situate, of hung material like refuse picked up from the street, nailed onto the wall and rubbed with charcoal to approximate rock surfaces. Since it is only by definition that this work is seen as a drawing, one wonders whether out of context it would look weak. It seems that drawings should be expected to stand by themselves, subject to the same questions and reflections prompted by any work.

Lizzie Borden