New York

Bear’s Heart, untitled ledger drawing, ca. 1875–78, watercolor, graphite, and colored pencil on paper, 8 5⁄8 × 11 1⁄4".

Bear’s Heart, untitled ledger drawing, ca. 1875–78, watercolor, graphite, and colored pencil on paper, 8 5⁄8 × 11 1⁄4".

“The Pencil Is a Key: Drawings by Incarcerated Artists”

The Drawing Center

Growing consciousness of mass incarceration in the United States—the product of a bipartisan consensus that has seen the prison population, disproportionately represented by black, brown, and poor people, explode by 700 percent in the past fifty years—has motivated a surge of recent exhibitions devoted to art made by those serving time. While of a piece with this development, “The Pencil Is a Key: Drawings by Incarcerated Artists,” the Drawing Center’s first show under the direction of Laura Hoptman, is also unique in the way it uses the condition of imprisonment (broadly defined here to encompass “any situation in which an individual is denied their freedom”) to intervene in art history. Internationalist and transhistorical in approach, the exhibition—which brought together the work of more than eighty artists, all the way from the French Revolution to now—imaginatively reshuffled how

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