It is difficult to define drawing in an age when artists are pushing boundaries far beyond putting pencil or charcoal to paper. Traditionally, drawings have been employed by artists in a variety of ways: as sketches for a larger project, sometimes a painting or a sculpture; as finished works, complete in and of themselves; and as spontaneous doodles which are more often just outlines of an idea for something grander. All are relevant aspects of an artist’s oeuvre and offer insights into the thinking behind the impetus to create, and in this respect, contemporary artists remain traditionalists.
But while much of these criteria still holds true, the tools used to achieve the ends have been altered and expanded to include unusual media, from folded and cut paper, drawing with encaustic, and video “drawings” that melt and merge into a panoramic piece, to erasures on newsprint that offer a ghostlike rendering that seems to emerge out of the printed words. In this regard, there is seemingly no limit to the imaginative impulse, and the results are both exciting in their creative stature and unusual in the contradictions they exploit.
The works in this exhibition are bracketed by a fifteen-year time frame—created between 1991 and 2006. They are quirky, sometimes fun, and sometimes disturbing, while often addressing serious political and social issues including rape, incest, first love, aging, and sex. The stories told in these works are often vividly personal and gut-wrenching, told in a first-person voice that makes the images spring to life. And they are as much about the craft of creating as they are about the message itself—by pushing the boundaries, artists achieve startling results through an innovative use of various media and a complex array of matrixes. No longer is a drawing defined as a work on paper; today, artists use canvas, photographs, wood, doilies, mylar, and a host of other materials. Some works are three-dimensional, some are larger than a major canvas, and some are projected on a wall or screen. What remains is the skill of the consummate draftsman, attesting to the ingenuity that remains as much a part of the artist’s repertoire today as it did for artists of centuries past.
The Mallin collection is one of the premier collections of contemporary art in this country. Sherry and Joel Mallin are both graduates of Cornell’s Class of 1955, and as stewards of these wonderful works they have been generous to numerous institutions over the years, including the Johnson Museum, in lending works from their collection to museums around the world. We are extremely grateful to them for making this exciting exhibition possible, with the loan of over seventy works from their contemporary drawing collection, works that exemplify the excitement and creative impulse of artists working in the field today.
Nancy E. Green
Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs