December 2, 2010  |  Artists, Collection & Exhibitions
MoMA Abroad: Compass in Hand Travels to Valencia
An installation view of "Compass in Hand" at IVAM, October 2010.

An installation view of Compass in Hand at IVAM, October 2010. Photo: Maura Lynch

On October 28 the exhibition Compass in Hand: Selections from The Judith Rothschild Foundation Contemporary Drawings Collection Gift opened at the Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno (IVAM) in Spain. If this exhibition sounds familiar to our frequent visitors and blog subscribers, that’s hardly a coincidence—from April 21, 2009, through January 4, 2010, this exhibition was on view in MoMA’s Contemporary Galleries. While the staff is always hard at work on the collection and upcoming exhibitions here at the Museum, a number of staff members are also busy working on traveling exhibitions, both collection and loan-based, that the Museum coordinates on a regular basis.

Right now other exhibitions currently traveling include Tim Burton (currently at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto), Gabriel Orozco (at the Centre Pompidou in Paris), and Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century (at SFMOMA). Reasons vary for why a given exhibition might travel. In the case of Compass in Hand, which originated at MoMA, my colleagues abroad said their interest was piqued by the international and contemporary scope of the exhibition—the show’s title refers in part to the collection’s ambitious embrace of geographical exploration and discovery—and all parties involved saw it as a unique opportunity to bring a selection of works from MoMA’s renowned collection to a new foreign audience. Comprising nearly 250 works, the exhibition attests to vitality of drawing in contemporary art today and documents a resurgence of the medium’s importance over the past two decades. The show addresses the medium’s many and shifting roles—from introductory sketch to finished artwork—and proposes a dual trajectory of figurative practices on the one hand and abstract, Minimal, and Conceptual vocabularies on the other, tracing a rough chronology of each mode from the 1950s to the present. This exhibition marks the second collaboration between IVAM and MoMA, as MoMA’s Elizabeth Murray retrospective traveled there in 2006.

While a collection-based show may at first seem “pre-packaged,” a lot of work goes into transporting and installing an entire exhibition abroad. Works on paper are inherently fragile by their nature, so each work’s framing and conservation was reassessed before travel. New crates had to be built for nearly 250 works. And then there is the back-and-forth correspondence between institutions, in this case separated by a six-hour time difference, about installation, shipments, graphics, and press, among other things. Because of new space constraints and conservation concerns, not all of the works that were previously on view at MoMA could travel. Months before the exhibition opened abroad, Christian Rattemeyer, The Harvey S. Shipley Miller Associate Curator of Drawings at MoMA, and I worked on a floor plan to narrow down the checklist and finalize the placement of works that would travel. The galleries at IVAM are smaller and their configuration is dramatically different from the space at MoMA—at IVAM a third of the gallery is a separate mezzanine level—so envisioning the installation in a new way while trying to maintain the original narrative of the exhibition was an interesting challenge. The two of us, along with the exhibition’s registrar, Susan Palamara, then traveled to Valencia two weeks before the opening date to uncrate and condition-check all of the works and oversee the installation. Working in the exhibition space for the first time, we were happy to discover that certain  juxtapositions worked well in the new space; specifically Christian loosely re-created three beautiful Salon-style installations originally configured in the exhibition at MoMA.

Installation view of "Compass in Hand" at IVAM, October 2010

Installation view of Compass in Hand at IVAM, October 2010. Photo: Maura Lynch

Yet along with these instances of previous correlations were also pleasant new discoveries. Works once installed in separate galleries now share walls or face each other from opposite ends of the room. At the entrance wall to the exhibition, for example, the side-by-side grouping of an untitled 2001 drawing by Cy Twombly and 1958 soot drawing by Lee Bontecou—previously installed in opposite ends of the galleries at MoMA—is a particularly beautiful new pairing that is sure to initiate conversations about the wide range of material practices by artists working in the drawing medium.

There are also two other major exhibitions currently on view at IVAM that should not be missed. One, an exhibition of the art dealer Christian Stein’s postwar Italian art collection, includes a number of works by Italian artist Alighiero e Boetti. During installation Christian pointed out that an invitation card by Boetti, on view in Compass in Hand, was originally made for the artist’s first exhibition at Stein’s gallery in Turin in January 1967; furthermore, many of the sculptural works from that 1967 exhibition remained in Stein’s collection and are now on view in the exhibition. The other exhibition, Drawing on Paper, just happens to be a selection of works on paper from IVAM’s collection. A wonderful complement to our exhibition, Drawing on Paper highlights additional works by artists included Compass in Hand and MoMA’s collection, but also brings attention to other artists who are underrepresented outside of Spain.

Following its presentation at IVAM the show will travel to the Gropius Bau in Germany, where it will be on view from March 11 through May 29, 2011. Should you find yourself in Berlin this spring I hope you have the chance to stop by and see it!