New York

“New Drawing In America”

The Drawing Center

This was another kind of group show, the first half of an exhibition of drawings by 174 artists (one work each). To me it posed a problem: the lack of profile of drawing today. Drawing has acquired a multitude of uses and lost definition as a medium. This is perhaps an unavoidable consequence of the so-called expansionist esthetic and the multimedia approach, with their implicit synthesis of all in all; but they seem increasingly a matter of diminishing returns. The sense of vision that their variety of combinations initially evoked seems lost. Somewhere between the alternative, purist approach, with its high-abstraction results, and the expansionist acceptance of diversity and visual irony, there has to be a renewed sense of the modesty of drawing. It was traditionally a source of exploratory tentativeness or idealized impulsiveness and immediacy—simultaneously preparatory and instinctive, however much each of these aspects might be isolated and absolutized. The drawing existed in relation to a painting, a sculpture, an architectural project; it was the first sign of intensity and intention. In this exhibition, drawing tends to be pursued as an end in itself, as a medium having a certain effect on an image already conceived as finished. Many of these images are intriguing (or seem so—I viewed some works not yet hung by their catalogue photographs only). But I don’t really see what they have to do with drawing, except materially. It is only by a haphazard extension of the term that John Billingham’s paper-and-cardboard box with seashells on it or Armand Conine’s papier-mâché relief can be called drawings.

Many of the images are noteworthy, although it is not clear what calling them drawings does for them. I like the images offered by Baldo Diodato, Mark Innerst, Jane Kaplowitz, Thomas Lawson, Nachume Miller, Graham Nickson, and Lydia Viscardi, among others, for their psychological impact and technical clarity. I like those of Sarah Canright, John Digby, Jak Katalan, Christopher Knowles, Kevin Larmon, Kurt Ossenfort, and Percy Scott, among others, for their lively materiality. I can even be tolerant of the academicism and generally nostalgic look (in terms of style or observation) of Roland Ayers, Eric Ying-Lam Chan, Guy-Dorian Cristol, Katie DeGroot, William Garbe, Sherri Hollaender, Thomas LoCicero, Gerald Pryor, and Nancy Ring, among others. But none of these have that sense of making a beginning that drawing is all about. There are certain exceptions—Paul Neagu’s drawing for a sculpture project, for example; but most of the work here exploits the drawing medium to give a sense of inadvertency to an already preconceived image, as in Grover E. Mouton’s treatment of Wall Street. There is all too rarely that sense of fresh discovery that goes with drawing. The panoramic multidimensionality of the show as a whole was rewarding, however, and a kind of compensation for all the other troubles one might have had with it.

Donald Kuspit