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Is BCA's 'Drawing Show' False Advertising?

Marguerite White’s installation “Stage Fright," 2013. (Greg Cook/WBUR)

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Newton artist Marguerite White’s installation “Stage Fright” (pictured above) in the Boston Center for the Arts’ 23rd “Drawing Show: Drawing Connections” (through September 22) is a sort of shadow puppet show. Across three tall scrolls of frosty white vellum, flashlights project a square-rigged sailing ship spinning in a window, a bug hovering near an antique street lamp, a bird looking at flowers, heavy rope draped over a stepladder. There are also shadows of little chairs, bottles, and a lion.

You can peek behind the screens to see the chairs, stuffed bird, ship model, record turntables and flashlights that make up spectacle. It feels like visions from your attic of memories. It’s wicked enchanting; I’d love to see more. But how does it qualify for the “Drawing Show”?

The exhibit has been one of the signature events on the local schedule for years. But as in several recent editions of the show, now a biennial, this one defines drawing so broadly as to include sketches, works on paper (maybe except photos), sculpture, cut-out paper, digital animation, collage, installation, and painting in watercolor, gouache and acrylic (apparently all painting except oils).

It reflects the fine art world’s predilection for boundary-busting and a lingering skepticism of traditional skills like draftsmanship. But the show’s definition is so inclusive that continuing to call it the “Drawing Show” is false advertising. And disappointing if, you know, you actually care about drawing.

Melanie Pankau's "Accumulations #5," 2012.

Melanie Pankau’s “Accumulations #5,” 2012.

Melanie Pankau paints sharp, futuristic hard-edged, floating abstract shapes—and includes along side it what seems to be her color swatch studies for the painting and a pencil sketch working out this sort of design.

Daniel Luchman’s “Replica of the Inverse of Methodology, Prototype Collection (Drawing Table Display)” is a sort of intriguing arrangement of a seemingly random collection of stuff—a toy lion with a real knife cutting through its neck, a tinfoil ziggurat, a brush, and weathered wood spotted with red paint. The effect is like staring at a sort of post-modern, post-Duchamp selection of scholars’ rocks.

Erica Daborn’s “Seeking Higher Ground," 2012.

Erica Daborn’s “Seeking Higher Ground,” 2012.

Erica Daborn’s 14-foot-wide folksy, expressionist charcoal drawing “Seeking Higher Ground” depicts people trying to survive a flood. It’s an interesting allegorical composition, but a bit cloying. The characters’ big-eyed blank stares keep us from connecting with them as people.

Despite including 28 artists—just over half reside in greater Boston while the rest hail from Brooklyn, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Maryland, Berlin, Montreal, Greece—and every sort of art under the sun, too much here is ho-hum. Which is sad when local folks like Jake Fried, Mary O’Malley, and Raul Gonzalez (none included here) are doing some terrific drawing.

The show was curated by James Hull of Laconia Gallery and Suffolk University Art Gallery, who has one of the sharpest and most sympathetic eyes for emerging talent around. So you can’t help thinking that the show’s problem lies in the quality of submissions via the exhibition’s open call for art and, in turn, that maybe the BCA isn’t doing enough to recruit talented folks to take part.

Daniel Luchman's "Replica of the Inverse Methodology, Protype Collection (Drawing Table Display)," 2013.

Daniel Luchman’s “Replica of the Inverse Methodology, Protype Collection (Drawing Table Display),” 2013.

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