The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2014

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MAR 2014 Issue

Florence and Daniel Guerlain Donation

On View
Pompidou Center
October 16, 2013 – March 31, 2014

Since its very origins, the practice of drawing has eluded definition, which is perhaps why it has become metaphorically aligned with the seemingly futile pursuit of chasing shadows. A strong case for the accuracy of this comparison can be found in the hundreds of drawings now on display at the Pompidou Center, all of which represent just a portion of the 1,200 plus works in the collection of perfume heirs Florence and Daniel Guerlain. The only thread linking the pieces in the exhibition together is the loose rubric “works on paper,” and though further subdivisions can be applied—such as sketches, doodles, “preliminary” or “preparatory” or “finished” drawings—the categories merely frustrate, as they all seem at cross-purposes to one another.

It is the cursory nature of drawing, as encapsulated in the show’s opening number by Joyce Pensato, that offers a more substantial motif. “Flying Home” (2010) depicts a dementedly cheerful charcoal rendering of a duck/mouse, its scruffy and smudgy contours crafted primarily with an eraser that offers a conceptual umbrella for the vast majority of pieces in the show. Though some drawings in this exhibition are very large and/or very finished, the majority of works on view present a more temporary, transitory, or patently experimental state—there may be no end in sight, but here and there a moment has been plucked from the mind of the artist and framed on the wall.

The Guerlains reveal their fascination with artistic obsession and train-of-thought methodology in terms of drawing as a tool and a primarily subservient media. For example, Jenny Holzer’s plaintive “HOW DO YOU RESIGN YOURSELF TO SOMETHING THAT WILL NEVER BE?” [The Living Series] (1980-82) reads like a craftsman’s blueprint for a soon to be made marble inscription, while nearby, Chloe Pienen’s “Sitting 01” (2005) is an exercise, a perfect contour drawing. While both are deserving of a place in a museum, the latter does not aspire to dramatic finality, but is rather content to be a brief refresher in hand-eye coordination.

The exhibition’s curators have wisely refrained from making any polemical gestures or broad theories on drawing, instead choosing to group works together via a sense of superficial similarities. These Aristotelian lines of organization work well, providing the viewer with entertaining comparisons such as the placement of “Eén” (2004), a William Blake-ish figure study by Berlinde de Bruyckere, next to an amoebic fetal watercolor by Atul Dodiya. Such resonances provide a series of anchors that are desperately necessary in a convoluted show of this magnitude. They create a typology of drawing, a series of tropes that artists tend to fall into, while simultaneously exploring their infinite paths of interest—from the use of natural forms, appliqués, text, to the various forms of printing and reproduction.

Among the most visually arresting of these groups of works, was a selection of drawings that luxuriate in dark, immobile forms. At times engaging a heightened sense of figure/ground, but often happily slithering amongst various shades of gray and deeper shades of black, these drawings absorb one’s eye. Michael Landy’s “Tinguely’s Suicide Carriage Breaks down on Its Way to Drown Itself in The Maillol River” (2007) is exquisite. The nine drawings of “Chemins dans la Caillasse” (2009) by Dove Allouche delve into the abstract textural possibilities of thick, gleaming graphite and are complemented by Robert Wilson’s “Danton’s Death” (1992)—playing with a dark drawing’s inclination towards fuzzy, muddled indiscernibility.

Many of the subsets of drawings were placed in proximity for the purposes of visual comparison. The “nature” room was less didactic and more free-spirited. Here one found Not Vital’s piece “Untitled” (2009), comprised of layered cannabis sativa fronds below an ink drawing. José Maria Sicilia fashioned his series of nine drawings “Sanlúcar de Barrameda” (1991-2001) in oil on a base of bee’s wax. Burning lines into the paper via the sun, via magnifying glass, Roger Ackling’s “Spring” (1983) mimicked receding lines of text. His was also one of many unique methods of line production, and hearkened back—admittedly via a very circuitous route—to Pliny’s origins of painting and drawing.

There were many other groupings based on various methodologies of production, but the most salient multiplicity in the drawings emerged from the artists themselves—in the form of sets and series of drawings by individual artists. Fire is not unique to Ackling’s drawing; Tony Oursler is included in the show with a cycle of six drawings (2006), featuring “Destructlos.” Using soot he creates trails, plumes, and rings which circulate around collaged eyes cut-out from magazines. It allows Oursler to be grittier and more expressionistic than his usual succinct and precise sculptures/installation and sound pieces. Of the many iterative series, “Metamorfosis [I-LII]” (2004) by Javier Pérez is a gorgeous and delicate anthology of musings inspired by Ovid. Heads grow branches, feet grow roots, and roots become figures and hearts, all delicately inscribed or scratched on identically sized sheets. Pérez’s drawings are framed independently, in contrast to Sandra Vásquez de la Horra whose 32 drawings on yellow trace paper are under one giant glass. These pieces are not individual tales, but rather members of a set. With titles such as “Santa Muerte” and “Las Apariciones” (both 2009) they form a pack of Tarot cards with a manga/Hello Kitty aesthetic.

An encyclopedic show of this nature also allows for a window into the inevitable pitfalls that emerge in an artist’s drawing practice. There is an interesting view of ideas that work less well, passing fads that all artists experiment with for a time, as well as the lure of auto-pilot mindlessness that arises when “locked” in the studio all day with a dry run on inspiration, such as the desire to reproduce film or video stills graphically. There are other works of art that become so involved in the process of drawing line as an end in itself that they become nothing more than exercises in “endurance” drawing, culminating in sheets of vaguely topographical wallpaper. It is fun to see these misfires, as most artists have been there themselves.

Like several recent drawing exhibitions such as Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity at the Drawing Center, the Guerlain Donation largely explores drawing as a preparatory tool and testing ground for novel directions, regardless of wherever or in whatever medium that direction will find its finishing point. Often it is resourcefulness found within the limited parameters of a medium that give a drawing its edge. “Foglie del cervello” (1990) is a magnificent series of four drawings by Guiseppe Penone: imprints of an ink covered brain on glass. Penone’s zany use of unexpected materials stands in stark contrast to “Botsing,” (1994), a gorgeous drawing by Pat Andrea that glides effortlessly between meticulous polychromatic faces and details, and a simple line drawing, all within a very traditional drawing context. Most emblematic of the larger show, however, is Huma Bhabha’s “Untitled” (2007) which shows a pair of choppy, inky, and clodhopping feet placed at mystifying angles on to a worm’s-eye view photograph of dry terrain receding into an enigmatic horizon. This is not the beginning of this walk, nor is it the end. It is somewhere in the middle.


William Corwin

William Corwin is a sculptor and journalist from New York.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2014

All Issues