I was in Manhattan in NYC, a week ago Friday, had an hour to spare before meeting friends uptown at the Studio Museum in Harlem to see Mark Bradford’s collages. There was just enough time to visit the Museum of Modern Art. I had to do it.
The MoMA exhibition “On Line: Drawing Through the Twentieth Century” was going to close the following Monday, February 7th. All my artist friends said You Must See this Exhibition. It’s not just about lines and drawing. It’s also about collage.
There was a weather forecast for more snow, so an extra hour might be all the opportunity I would have to see the show before it closed.
As I entered the 6th floor exhibition gallery, there was a small crowd gathered, listening to a docent in front of the first three works in the exhibition – all by Pablo Picasso – all titled Guitar – one a collage, one an assemblage, one a charcoal line drawing – all done in 1913 and 1914.
The collage, seen nearby, titled Guitar, is cut and pasted paper, printed paper, charcoal, ink and chalk on colored paper on board (1913), 26×19 inches.
I heard the docent say: Picasso used line to emphasize the flatness of the surface. She continued: notice the charcoal he used to outline the papers in the collage.
In 1912, Picasso was inspired by movement in space, by dance and motion pictures. Along with Georges Braque, Picasso invented Cubism and modern collage to explore those ideas.
Paul Klee said: A drawing is simply a line going for a walk
On Monday, the same day the exhibition was due to close, I came back with Bette, a dear friend whose field is interior design. We celebrated her birthday at MoMA. It was great fun to share comments about the individual art works as we walked through the exhibition.
The image nearby is titled Der Angler (the Angler) 1921. It’s an oil transfer drawing, watercolor and ink on paper with watercolor and ink borders on board 19 7/8 x 12 1/2 inches.
I explained to Bette how a reverse drawing is made: Basically the artist draws from the back onto a sheet of paper that is face down on a surface coated with a thin layer of oil paint or print ink. The line that is transferred to the front of the paper is the impression made with a fine pencil or pen.
After the oil paint dried, Klee added ink and other media.
As Bette and I walked through the exhibition galleries, I asked myself: What makes each work in this show a drawing? Why is it included? What media makes the line?
I looked at the works in terms of how each artist explored the line in two or three dimensions. We saw the line extended beyond the canvas. I was intrigued by work by Robert Ryman (American, born 1930) titled Impex, an unstretched linen canvas stapled to the wall with a a blue chalk line drawn from the top right edge up to the ceiling.
We saw dimensional works and sculpture projecting forward from the wall (a stabile by Alexander Calder). We saw sculpture that looked like lines in space hanging from the ceiling.
There was free standing sculpture on the floor, including Cube (9x9x9 feet), black finished steel (2008) by Mona Hatoum (born Beirut, Lebanon, 1952).
We saw loose undulating lines in colored pencil on cardboard, 1940 by Sophie Taeuber Arp. I prefer taut lines. Bette commented: Loose Ends.
I purchased the exhibition catalog for my collage library collection. It has excellent essays on the concept behind OnLine. You can see On Line online. You’ll almost feel you are seeing the show because there are so many images and links to video and excellent text about the show.
My Favorite artist’s and their drawings in the show are by Pablo Picasso (Spanish 1881-1973), Hans (Jean) Arp (French, born Germany 1886-1966, Paul Klee (German, born Switzerland 1879-1940), Atsugo Tanaka (Japanese, 1932-2005), Eva Hesse (American, born Germany 1936-1970), and Lucio Fontana (Argentine 1899-1968).
The image nearby is by Lucio Fontana (1899-1968), titled “Spatial Concept: Expectations (1959) and is synthetic polymer paint on slashed burlap, 39×32 inches.
Inspired by Futurism, Fontana wanted to escape the “prison” of the flat picture surface and explore movement, time, and space. Starting in 1949, he punctured and pierced the surfaces of sheets of paper to reach behind to what he called “a free space.” In the late 1950s Fontana began to slash linear cuts into stretched canvases.
Catherine de Zegher wrote an essay for the exhibition catalog: Drawing is characterized by a line that is always unfolding, always becoming. Drawing is understood as an open-ended activity. The exhibition explores surface tension, the line broken free from the surface.
She adds: The history that informs the exhibition is interpreted here as an interweaving of materials, records, and the requirements of a changing present. The reading inevitably reflects notions of interconnection (as on the Web) and interdependency in a new globalized society. She wrote:
Thought has been linear and progressive.
It has evolved into a kind of network
More fluid, open, simultaneous and undefined.
The image nearby is by the Japanese artist Atsugo Tanaka (1932-2005). It’s a view of her performance Round on Sand (1956). She was also represented in the show with 2 works on paper done with India ink, ink pencil and crayon on paper – one a preparatory drawing and the other a drawing after her performance Electric Dress (1956).
The image nearby is a drawing by Atsugo Tanaka, titled Drawing After Electric Dress (India ink, ink, pencil and crayon on paper 30 5/16 x 21 5/8 inches, 1956)
It looks like a drawing. It is actually the plan for a performance.
Calvin Tomkins, in his excellent book LIVES of the ARTISTS, wrote: “The radical changes in art and society that were set in motion during the early years of the twentieth century gave rise to a new kind of artist…where
Art could be whatever artists decided it was, and there were no restrictions on the methods and materials – from video and verbal constructs to raw nature and urban detritus – that they could use…If art can be anything, where do you begin?
Begin with Picasso.
On February 10th, my friend Dale invited me to join her at the Museum of Modern Art Member’s preview to see Picasso: Guitars 1912-1914. The 3 Guitars from the OnLine show are now ensconced in the Guitar show. Because of the way the show is lighted, the works look even more dimensional. The show is exquisite.
The image nearby is Picasso’s Guitar (about 1913). It’s made with paperboard, paper, string, and painted wire installed with cut cardboard box, overall: 30 x 20 1/2 x 7 3/4 inches. Picasso gifted the work to the Museum of Modern Art.
See Holland Cotter’s exhibition review “When Picasso Changed His Tune” in the NY Times, (Friday, February 11, 2011).
The review opens: “It’s 1912 and Pablo Picasso is in Paris, thinking: All right, what’s next?”
Cotter writes: “piece by piece it’s entrancing. Taken as a whole it’s a record of a brief but intense revolution that generated some of the most challenging ideas in modern art.
I would love to hear what you think about drawing and, if you visited the MoMA exhibition, what you thought of the works and the artists in the show. Thank you for your comments.