DAVID COHEN, Editor           
       Winter 2003  


Drawing Now: Eight Propositions
Museum of Modern Art, New York [MOMA QNS]
33 Street at Queens Boulevard
Long Island City, Queens
October 17, 2002–January 6, 2003


John Currin Autumn Lovers 1994
watercolor and wash on paper, 12 x 8 inches
Collection Stefan Edlis, photo courtesy Andrea Rosen Gallery © John Currin


OCD and Art
In the first room, labor-intensive, repetitive, and accumulative mark-making are most prominent. Russell Crotty's "scientifically observed" ballpoint pen drawings and notations are not specific enough to communicate their intention and mostly accumulate to achieve an end product (the large book landscape for example). Ugo Rondinone's landscape images are obsessive but do not lose their connection to his intention. Using the projected and enlarged image, reversing the tonality, and building the image with a modular, incremental mark, Rondinone's drawings are removed from their original source, giving an ironic stance to the traditional plein air sketches of the late nineteenth century.

Faux Delicacy
Jennifer Pastor's wispy lines and ethereal drawing marks fail to connect with the content of their subject. Matthew Ritchie's pastel ink drawings describe a twisting and airy landscape. His organic and lightly colored images fail to create a sense of palpability - like a Turner without the edges. Artists whose delicate aesthetic is more substantive and not faux at all are Toba Khedoori, Shahzia Sikander and Mark Manders. Khedoori's minimal structures (doors, windows, and broken houses) created with a nearly transparent palette, are supported by the wax coating she gives the large-scale paper. Complete with studio debris such as dust and hair, the white of the paper becomes a physical support to the fragility of the image. Sikander uses a pastel palette and soft contours over Persian miniature images. These ornate compositions are layered with the authority of an historic genre and the authenticity of her imagery. Manders' freewheeling line corresponds perfectly to his quirky oddball imagery.

Paper Cutout Club
Paper cutout collage makes a strong showing via Laura Owens, Jockum Nordström and David Thorpe. Nordström constructs his pictures as a quilt would be organized with a border, strong geometry and flat colored shapes à la folk art. But the innocence of the pattern is belied by the sinister narrative. Owens uses paper cutout to quote folk art to less successful ends. She lacks structure because her content shifts from folk art into decorative romanticism. Paper shapes collaged onto a backdrop of wishy-washy watercolors yield mediocre results at best.


Chris Ofili Prince among Thieves with Flowers 1999
pencil on paper, 29¾ x 22¼ inches
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of David Teiger and the Friends of Contemporary Drawing; photo courtesy Gavin Brown's enterprise, with detail to right

Many Sources
Tapping into various cultural motifs, artists raid history to jive with their own personal agendas. Chris Ofili's take-offs on Piero Della Francesca's "Duke and Duchess of Urbino", are infused with Afro-centricism, de-centering the authority of western civilization. Little heads with large afros and a botanic overlay create a crazy but seamless fusion of two cultures. Yoshitomo Nara ruthlessly updates Japanese prints with heavy magic marker cartoons to de-sentimentalize a classical tradition such as Ukiyo-e. Using cross hatching and white chalk on a colored ground, John Currin draws on technical traditions of great masters, Titian, Pontormo and the like. At the same time, however, his imagery (Rubenesque women with suitcases strapped to their bottoms or toting marshmallows on a stick) indicates he wants to straddle the world of satire. Which is it? Is he a great master or a great satirist? Either way, the florid drawing technique is too exaggerated to efficiently convey a message.

Kai Althoff's crepuscular narrative watercolors convey a Goethe-like romanticism that is entirely convincing because of the subdued colors and dark tones. Transparent figures meshed with darkly colored grounds create a sense of brooding mystery.

Denial of Perspective: Flatness
Kevin Appel offsets the perspective of his architectural structures with rectangles of flat color giving the drawings tension. Julie Mehretu also sets up a perspectival space using flat color in layers to counter it. But her arabesque lines are arranged in layers with varying degrees of thickness and opacity that diffuse the structure and tension. Elizabeth Peyton's colored pencil portraits of attractive people border on pre-raphaelite sentimentality made flat and abstract by an organization of richly colored, un-modulated shapes.

Things we'd rather not see in museums: collage installations the curator organizes in hodgepodge fashion with scotch tape. Barry McGee does this all on his own, however, with his large installation of mismatched framed drawings and photographs. De-contextualized from their trailer-trash installation, these pencil drawings make ugliness compelling. Like George Grosz, he makes figures with angular body types and depressive expressions. With a little editing of the onslaught of picture-framed drawings you'd be able to see what is good about this artist's work.


Moriah Carlson and Laura Somer are artists living in New York City


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