Although British artist Michael Craig-Martin has for nearly two decades been influential in England, where he has had a distinguished career as a teacher, his work is largely unknown in this country. Projects 27: Michael Craig-Martin, three mural-size drawings executed in architectural drafting tape, is the artist’s first museum exhibition in the United States.
For this installation, Craig-Martin has developed a single composition into a three-part wall drawing consisting of one long, frieze-like rendering and two smaller ones on flanking walls. On the right wall, a flat, “transparent” drawing superimposes a book, drawer, globe, light bulb, and table. On the left wall, certain lines have been suppressed from the drawing so that the objects take on volume and appear to intersect. On the center wall, the composition is repeated with subtle variations, so that different objects appear to emerge or recede, exchanging places with one another as in a musical “round.”
At first glance, this austere rendering of mundane, man-made objects appears to blend Minimalism and Pop art, recalling work by such artists as Jasper Johns, Sol LeWitt, and James Rosenquist. Unlike the mass-media transformations of Pop art, however, Craig-Martin draws all of his objects from life, “picturing” them in the classic tradition of still life. The installation itself is conceived in “classical” terms, much like the configuration of a fresco in a Renaissance refectory. By depicting the objects as pure scheme, he reduces them to a pristine, Platonic ideal. His choice of objects, too—a book, a light bulb, a globe—conjures up erudite associations of reading or scholarly pursuits.
Trained in America in the Conceptual spirit of the late sixties, Craig-Martin switched in 1975 to imagery and made the first of what now number more than 200 wall drawings of such objects as shoes, ladders, books, hammers, and tables, no more than two dozen of which have been executed on a large scale. His Conceptual orientation is revealed by the process of installing his work. He makes an original drawing on plastic film, projects it onto the walls of the gallery, and then traces it in drafting tape, transposing a strictly preordained scheme to the wall. Yet, his way of arriving at a composition is intuitive. For example, there is a sustained contrast between open and closed forms and circular and rectilinear ones, an effect that is achieved by bringing out a feeling of balance suggested by the objects.
Robert Evren writes in the brochure accompanying the exhibition that, in Craig-Martin’s installation, the gallery walls function “like a magic cinematic screen, one that allows him to externalize a quiet passion for the look of things blown up to a grand scale and stripped of incidental detail. In the end, when completed by the viewer, Craig-Martin’s work must also undergo a change, from image into music, ephemeral decor into philosophy, room into theater on whose stage he enacts for our pleasure a lucid dance of art and the mind.”
Organized by Robert Evren, curatorial assistant, Department of Drawings.
The Projects series is made possible by generous grants from The Bohen Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, The Contemporary Arts Council of The Museum of Modern Art, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support for this exhibition has been provided by The British Council.