After long production delays, the catalogue related to "Twice Drawn: Modern and Contemporary Drawings in Context," a wide-ranging two-part exhibition at the Tang Teaching Museum at Skidmore College in 2006, was finally published earlier this month. The interesting but odd volume raises a fundamental question: should it echo the intention and methods of the curatorial project, or build on its premise? To its detriment, Twice Drawn attempts to replicate the complexities of the exhibition.
The book is edited by the exhibition's co-curators, Ian Berry and Jack Shear, whose show involved re-hanging some material from part one (which appeared in the spring) against new material in the part two, which opened in the fall. The two-part book continues the recontextualization and introduces new materials. Loose criteria for inclusion opens both show and catalogue to lots of wonderful information, but sometimes the results are opaque and inconsistent.
Each part of the show and the book feature two drawings each by 62 artists. Bruce Conner is represented by a trippy swirl of spots dated 1965-66 and a drawing from 2003 consisting of innumerable symmetrical inkblots, which demonstrate some continuity. Meanwhile, Dawn Clements's 13-foot-high, ink-on-paper Shelves, a closely observed if space-warping study of a domestic interior dated 2003, contrasts physically and conceptually with her 24-by-18-inch Mother Gin Sing, from the artist's ongoing series of montagelike drawings based on film melodramas.
Reproducing two or three works on each spread, part two of the book combines drawings thematically, but often with topics too vague to be helpful: "people," "organic abstraction," "process," "landscape," and even "things." The curatorial choices yield some nice visual dialogues. Under "landscape," for example, are densely detailed elevated views rendered in quirky palettes by Yun-Fei Ji and Yvonne Jacquette, while Blaze Lamper's meticulous, fantastic wormhole into a leafy surround chimes unexpectedly with Michael Heizer's roughly sketched, 10-by-10-foot shaft sunk deep into the desert floor.
An index of works indicates which of the drawings in the book were included in which show; some were in both, others neither. Installation shots reveal that part two's work was arranged in organic clusters, where they might well have appeared less arbitrary. Elsewhere, and without advancing a specific thesis, more works are grouped by date, with five drawings (from 1968, 1975, 1985, 1993 and 2005) standing in for an entire era.
Former Skidmore students, who were working toward art history degrees during the shows, contribute brief appreciations of specific drawings by Bruce Conner, Dan Fischer, Robert Gober, Nancy Grossman, Hermann Nitsch, Sylvia Plimack Mangold and Jim Shaw. Lee Lozano, Jim Shaw, Ed Ruscha and Susan Turcot are featured in slightly longer essays on a group of drawings. One result of this supplementary material is that many works are reproduced more than once-an interesting and rather luxurious strategy.
The book's three core essays are at cross-purposes-although, coincidentally, each begins with a recollection from childhood. In "The Lion Inside," artist and teacher John Torreano posits drawing as a studio activity, a solitary activity where "each artist represents a world of one." In "On Drawing," previously published by the Tate, Jean Fisher and Stella Santacatterini theorize an ethics of drawing, predicated on its supposedly nonlinguistic connection to the imagination, and "opens the self to the possibility of otherness."
But language is the central metaphor in John Berger's "To Take Paper, To Draw: A World Through Lines," first published in Harper's in 1986. Berger likens drawings to grammatical tenses. Those that record the visible are in the present indicative; those that treat drawings as ideas or data, conditional; those done from memory, past tense.
The pluralism might be a pedagogical provocation that asks questions but takes no stance. The perplexed reader might be reassured by Henri Michaux, quoted in "On Drawing," who wrote of the activity: "I do it to be perplexed again. And I am delighted if there are traps."