Thursday, July 2, 2009

Redefining Drawing:McKenzie gallery in Chelsea (NYC); The Drawing Center in Soho (NYC)

Umbilcumdom - © Julie Evans

McKenzie Fine Art in NYC's Chelsea has a superb group show running through August 7th called simply "Drawings," that re-frames our sense of what drawing can be. (Click here to see the entire exhibit.) Group shows are iffy matters, typically uneven in quality or disparate in theme, but in this case the works of all 22 artists on display are at the very least intriguing (many are arresting), and the overall effect is greater than the sum of its parts. Whether peering at each small piece on the wall, or surveying the room as a whole, the viewer is rewarded.

Most striking is the wide range of media, including the smoke used by Jim Dingilian on the insides of bottles (!). Little of what McKenzie has curated is figurative, most is abstract and frankly startling in its freshness...and its blurring of genre. For instance, the acrylic and gouache splatters by Julie Evans ("Umbilcomdum," "Ahmedabad") are painterly, and the same is true of "Dvitva" and "Burst" by Karen Margolis.

Dvitva - © Karen Margolis

Even when the drawing is figurative, it tends to be whimsical and impossible, such as Ruth Marten's elaboration on a 19th-century print of a "Norfolk Island Flying Squirrel," which has under her pen grown an excessively bushy tail, in which numerous other squirrels hide. Another example: Ruth Waldman's vocabulary is recognizable--fences, creepers and trumpet vines, pipes, conveyor belts and sprinklers-- but she scrambles the syntax: the main impression is more rocaille than industrial.

The Drawing Center in NYC's Soho hosts until July 23 a real rarity: a major show by the Surrealist Unica Zuern. Happily-- especially given Zuern's unhappy life, marked by institutionalization and her suicide-- the show has been widely acclaimed. See, for instance, Ken Johnson's New York Times review and Lauren O'Neill-Butler's Artforum review.

Unica Zürn, “Untitled,” 1961. © Brinkmann & Bose Publisher, Berlin.

As with most of the artists at the McKenzie show, Zuern stretches our thinking about what drawing is meant to be. Her creations are amoeboid, tendrilled, densely feathered and herringboned, punctuated with eyes, like something out of H.P. Lovecraft's universe. I think these drawings were Zuern's psychological scaffolding during her periods of mental breakdown, though they were also presentiments of her final action (the show is entitled "Dark Spring" after the illustrated novel she produced not long before she killed herself).

Beyond our speculations about the psychology of Zuern's drawings rests the concrete evidence of her craft: the flow and zip and sluicing of ink raises these above mere doodles, becoming an untrammeled and exceedingly personal form of calligraphy.

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