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Sketching Wide Boundaries for Drawing

Connie Butler, MOCA's new curator of works on paper, unveils her first project, and it challenges the traditional parameters of the art.

November 03, 1996|Kristine McKenna | Kristine McKenna is a regular contributor to Calendar

'There are things you can experience with a drawing that you can't find in any other kind of work, but it's an art-making practice that continually falls in and out of favor," says Connie Butler, MOCA's newly appointed curator of works on paper.

"I was recently looking at the catalog from a 1976 show called 'Drawing Now' curated by Bernice Rose [of the Museum of Modern Art], and she makes the point that drawing has always been considered a secondary medium because it's been seen as preparation for larger work," continues Butler, whose first curatorial project for MOCA--"The Power of Suggestion"--opens today.

"However, contrary to what you might think, it's not a matter of scale that's led to drawing being dismissed as a lesser art form," Butler adds. "Rather, it's a matter of finish, and it wasn't until Modernism, which put a high premium on experimentation and lack of finish, that drawing ascended to a more equal position. The definition of drawing started to really open up in the late '50s with works being made at the time by artists like Robert Raushenberg, and what constitutes a drawing today has become extremely open-ended."

That belief is central to "The Power of Suggestion," which features works by 13 young artists who challenge the parameters of drawing in various ways.

"With this first show, I wanted to map out a wide territory for drawing," explains Butler, 33. "Toward that end, the show includes work by Meg Cranston and Pauline Stella Sanchez that employs aspects of performance art, an automated sculpture by Martin Kersels that could be described as a drawing machine in that it involves iron filings being dragged around on a piece of paper, and a work by Paula Hayes that's in the earthworks tradition. Hayes supports herself working as a landscaper and she's begun incorporating that in her art; at MOCA she plans to create a metaphorical space alluding to the fecundity of the fall season, using leaves gathered in Vermont.

"Sowon Kwon makes blueprint drawings about the bodily experience of architecture that use tracings of an idealized female form superimposed onto renderings of fragments of historically loaded architectural spaces--obviously, this isn't going to look like a traditional drawing show," she says, laughing.

As MOCA's first works-on-paper curator, Butler needn't concern herself with maintaining any established tradition, and she looks forward to inventing it as she goes along.

"The impetus for this new area of development is Marcia Weisman's collection of 83 works on paper, which was given to MOCA early this year and is the backbone of this new focus area," Butler says of the portion of the L.A. art patron's holdings that came to MOCA after Weisman died in 1991.

"The Weisman gift includes several historically important drawings, among them a Jackson Pollock surrealist collage from 1943, Willem de Kooning's 1952 pastel, 'Two Women With Still Life,' works by Philip Guston, Arshile Gorky, Agnes Martin and Clyfford Still, 10 drawings dating from 1957-86 by Jasper Johns, and five works by Ed Ruscha.

"MOCA's works on paper collection includes drawings, graphic works, prints, collages and photographs, and the remainder is composed of 73 drawings acquired from various sources, 15 Joseph Cornell collages [a recent gift from the Cornell Foundation], 169 prints and 2,564 photographs, the bulk of which are in the Freidus Collection of 2,100 images [a purchase of portfolios by 11 post-war American documentary photographers, acquired last year from New York collector Robert Freidus].

"Thus far, these works haven't been separated out from MOCA's collection as a whole, and the plan is to bring them together and create a study center slated to open next year, where people can make an appointment to see any work on paper they're interested in. Most of our conservation work will be done off site, but we will have a small library and also plan to devote gallery space in a fairly consistent way to works on paper, so I'll regularly be curating small shows from the collection.

"MOCA's curators don't confine themselves to one particular medium, so the curatorial staff will continue to draw from the works on paper collection, and I'll be free to wander into other media if it suits the needs of a show I'm working on," she adds.

"At the moment, I'm working with [MOCA curator] Kerry Brougher on a show drawn from the permanent collection that will take a revisionist look at color field and hard-edge painting, an exhibition organized by Klaus Ottman of Polaroids by the late Mark Morrisroe, which opens next summer, and a few other shows it would be premature to talk about."

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