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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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  • BostonArt

    It seems to me that Greg Cook approached/reviewed ‘Drawing Connections’ with the sole purpose of pointing out those works which he did not like, while flatly ignoring whole sections of the very in-depth and versatile group show. It is odd, for example, that Mr. Cook bemoans the “fine art world’s predilection for boundary-busting and a lingering skepticism of traditional skills like draftsmanship” when he was reviewing a show including works by Geoffrey Detrani,Neerja Kothari, Rachel Hammerman, Joe Bennett, and Julie Curtis (just to name a few). Surely had Mr. Cook seen these artist’s works he would have ready examples of work that is not just engaged, but entrenched, in “traditional draftsmanship.” That Raul Gonzalez is indeed a wonderful [and well established] local artist is true, but it says absolute nothing about the artwork being shown at Drawing Connections. Mr. Cook’s critique is as relevant as that of a food critic who, upon being served a dish of mushroom risotto, laments his preference for paella. “False advertising”– he claims? I should say the same about his review. And, to echo Mr. Cook’s own sentiments, it is: “…disappointing if, you know, you actually care about drawing.” Mr. Cook, I’d kindly request that you open your eyes a little wider before you yawn out another hackneyed: “ho-hum.”

    • James Hull

      I would agree with Greg if the goal – as stated on the wall of the gallery had been simply to show the best drawings possible, but alas it was not. I have to admit that there were some great drawings, technically and aesthetically that I did not include simply because they did not reveal any of what I had asked for in the “call for submissions” – work that reveals the creative thought process and experimentation by artists from a wide range of media who use drawing to think things out. here is the press release version of what we were after in the show this year:
      Drawing Connections investigates
      the relationships between traditional
      and contemporary approaches to

      the act of drawing as both a singular
      and interdisciplinary medium, from
      the simple yet elegant shorthand of
      painters and sculptors to the elaborate
      brainstorming of collaborative event-
      based artists.

      In embracing the traditional “work

      on paper” side of drawing, Drawing
      Connections explores the edgy,
      contemporary application of this
      approach and seeks the conceptual
      content and experimentation that this
      primary, flexible medium provides for
      today’s working artists.

    • jefe68

      Ho-hum indeed. Mr. Cook has made some valid points in my view.

  • James Hull

    perhaps this excerpt is best at outlining the curatorial criteria:

    Drawing Connections looks at the variety of ways we visualize thought through drawing, from the simple yet elegant shorthand of painters and sculptors to the elaborate illustrations, narratives or storyboards by collectives or event-based artists. At a time of both media convergence and nostalgia, the traditional notions of the sketch and contemporary innovations in drawing (as both a singular and
    interdisciplinary medium) are of particular interest as indicators of future trends. The regular use of
    drawing to clarify ideas and to layout visual proposals allows this single medium/concept to trace
    connections between very diverse studio practices and processes even as they continue to evolve.
    Focusing on the process of sketching out ideas in many different media, Drawing Connections bridges different kinds of contemporary artistic experimentation and seeks works that illuminate the decision-making, conceptual content and thought processes recorded through the act of drawing in a diverse range of materials.