Recently my colleagues in MoMA’s Department of Film have blogged about their favorite summer films in tandem with the current film series Hot and Humid: Summer Films from the Archives and invited Inside/Out readers to suggest their own favorites.
Posts by Maura Lynch
While preparing the exhibition I Am Still Alive: Politics and Everyday Life in Contemporary Drawing, Christian Rattemeyer and I had a conversation with our colleagues Luis Pérez-Oramas and Geaninne Gutiérrez-Guimarães about the premise of the exhibition. They immediately suggested that we look at the work of Beatriz González, a leading figure among Latin American Pop artists and currently one the most influential living artists in Colombia, whose work explores sociopolitical subject matter specific to her country’s history and vernacular culture.
Like many of the works in the exhibition, including Marine Hugonnier’s series Art for Modern Architecture (Homage to Ellsworth Kelly), Robert Morris’s untitled gouache paintings on newsprint, and On Kawara’s storage boxes for his date paintings lined with local newspaper clippings, there is a direct link between González’s work and the newspaper and print culture. When Julio César Turbay Ayala became president of Colombia in 1979, González turned her sketchbook into a visual diary of sorts, producing a simple, stylized drawing each day based on the daily media coverage of his presidency. Her stated intent was to become a type of “court painter,” and to critically document the spectacle of leadership. Made between 1979 and 1981, these drawings—fragmentary depictions of Turbay attending sessions of Congress, meeting with church, government, and military personnel, and engaging in leisure activities—provide an intimate look at the disparate public aspects of power. These works are prime examples of the artist’s straightforward use of drawing in her artistic production, and mark a significant and more politically charged change in her work towards a more explicit reflection on the growing violence and turmoil that engulfed Colombia throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
Upon entering the first room of The Paul J. Sachs Drawings Galleries, where the exhibition I Am Still Alive: Politics and Everyday Life in Contemporary Drawing is currently on view, visitors will encounter a crystal chandelier methodically disassembled and laid out in pieces directly on the floor.
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.
I first encountered the work of Martín Ramírez in the winter of 2007, when our neighbors at the American Folk Art Museum mounted a major retrospective of his drawings and collages. Making my way through the exhibition, I was struck by the vibrant landscapes and recurring iconography that appeared to reflect both twentieth-century modernization and the folk traditions of the artist’s native Mexican homeland: images of Madonnas; horseback riders, or jinete; and, as seen in this untitled work, a recent MoMA acquisition and the first work by Ramírez to enter the collection, trains entering and exiting tunnels.
My colleagues in the Department of Drawings and I are often asked about our criteria for defining what a drawing is. The short answer is that a drawing is typically defined as any unique (non-print) work of art with a paper material support. Taking this question one step further, I often think: Why did the artist use paper and not, for instance, a canvas? In what ways do the materials used by an artist lend themselves to the work, and how do they play out in the composition itself?
One could say that Atsuko Tanaka is having a moment here at MoMA. Her untitled painting from 1964 is currently one of the most visible works on view at the Museum (situated above the information desk in the main lobby), and a recently acquired drawing just went on view this week for the first time at MoMA in the exhibition Mind and Matter: Alternative Abstractions, 1940s to Now.
Born in Osaka, Japan, in 1932, Tanaka was a member of the Gutai Art Association, the major experimental postwar Japanese art movement founded by a group of young artists in Ashiya in 1954. She was best known for sculptural installations made from non-art materials, such as Electric Dress (1956), a wearable sculpture made of flickering light bulbs painted red, blue, green, and yellow. When originally worn, the sculpture both made the body the center of artistic activity and masked it in a mass of light and color. This work, along with Work (Bell) (1955)—made of twenty electric bells connected by one hundred feet of electrical cord and a switch that viewers can press to activate a line of ringing sound—are prime illustrations of Tanaka’s interest in the application of intangible materials in art, namely electricity, and Gutai’s overall reaction to a modernizing Japan.
The Modern Myth: Drawing Mythologies in Modern Times, a new exhibition organized by my colleagues Geaninne Gutiérrez-Guimarães and Luis Pérez-Oramas, opened in the Drawings Galleries last week, bringing together a stunning display of works from MoMA’s collection that draw on the motif of mythology. One eye-catching work in the contemporary section of the exhibition is a large-scale collage by Wangechi Mutu titled One Hundred Lavish Months of Bushwhack. She made this work in 2004 during her artist-in-residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem, and it was acquired by MoMA directly from her soon after our curators saw it on view in the Studio Museum’s exhibition Figuratively.
Though she has also worked in video, sculpture, installation, and, most recently, performance (as part of Performa in 2009), for the past several years Mutu has produced stunning collages of fantastically ornate hybrid women, composed of cut-out images culled from magazines ranging from Vogue to National Geographic, outdated ethnographic surveys, pornography, and botanical illustrations. Mutu is interested in how stereotypes become ingrained into the public conscious, and through her art she investigates gender and racial stereotypes, in particular those pertaining to black women, formulating a distinctly personal position on feminism, postcolonial continental Africa, and globalization.
The artist Guy de Cointet (French, 1934–1983) was fascinated with language, which he explored primarily through performance and drawing. His practice involved collecting random phrases, words, and even single letters from popular culture and literary sources—he often cited Raymond Roussel’s Surrealist novel Impressions of Africa as influential—and working these elements into non-linear narratives, which were presented as plays to his audience. Paintings and works on paper would then figure prominently within these performances. In his play At Sunrise . . . A Cry Was Heard (1976), a large painting depicting letters bisected by a white sash served as a main subject and prop, with the lead actress continuously referring to it and reading its jumble of letters as if it were an ordinary script. His drawings likewise are almost readable but just beyond comprehension.
Acquired for MoMA’s collection in May, these two drawings are strong examples of de Cointet’s scriptive compositions, which, alongside abstract forms, are reduced to algorithmic visual codes rather than narrative sentences. In these two particular works the artist meticulously reversed the direction of the inscriptions, a technique more commonly known as “mirror writing.” One must hold the drawing up to a mirror in order to read it—a performative act that was not lost on de Cointet. Building upon this mirroring technique, he further obscured the texts in these two works by altering their orientation as well: I can’t wait… has to be rotated once to the left for the text to be legible, and to read the text in We must not think that cold… one must turn the drawing upside down. Once deciphered, the texts read as snippets of mundane conversations, such as “I can’t wait! But first I’ve to wash my hands.” In other instances sentences are cut off mid-word, as in “work of their dis-,” only to have a new line of text begin below, leaving it up to the viewer to complete the sentence.
De Cointet is now recognized as one of the major figures in the Conceptual art movement that emerged in Los Angeles in the 1970s, having strongly influenced a number of prominent artists working in southern California today, including Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley, for whom both drawing and performance figure significantly in their artistic practices.
One of the little-known highlights in the collection of the Department of Drawings is our vast array of artists’ sketchbooks, which range from intimate diaristic notations and markings, to explicit studies for complete works in other mediums, to accomplished works unto themselves, rendered as carefully and thoughtfully as paintings, for example, of the same subject matter.
This past May we received, as a gift, an outstanding example of an artist’s sketchbook. Enrico Donati, who passed away last year at the age of 99, was considered to be “the last of the Surrealists.” His wife, Adele Donati, approached the Museum about donating one of his sketchbooks to the collection.
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