Exhibition Recaps 1960s Drawings

NEW YORK, NY.- Dominique Lévy is presenting Drawing Then: Innovation and Influence in American Drawings of the Sixties. The exhibition investigates revolutionary developments in the practice of drawing that emerged in the United States during a decade of radical social and political upheaval.

Art collectors of Art Kabinett social media network are offering rave reviews of this important modernist retrospective.

Drawing Then is inspired by—and coincides with the 40th anniversary of—the 1976 exhibition Drawing Now, organized by Bernice Rose at The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

In her seminal catalogue essay, Rose wrote that “a number of artists have, and with increasing intensity since the middle sixties, seriously investigated the nature of drawing, investing major energies in a fundamental reevaluation of the medium, its disciplines, and its uses.”

Forty years after Drawing Now, Drawing Then fills Dominique Lévy Gallery with more than 70 works by 39 artists, almost half of whom were not represented in the 1976 exhibition.

Drawing Then features loans from The Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, among other institutions, and includes works from the private collections of artists Mel Bochner, Vija Celmins, Jasper Johns, Adrian Piper, and Dorothea Rockburne.

The show also presents two wall drawings installed on the occasion of the exhibition: the first, Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #20, comprised of systematically drawn colored pencil lines, has been realized for the first time since its debut at Dwan Gallery in 1969. LeWitt’s wall drawings demonstrate, in the words of Lawrence Alloway, “the possibility of drawing as pure ratiocination.”

On the gallery’s second floor, Mel Bochner has installed his far less structured Superimposed Grids, originally conceived in 1968.

In conjunction with Drawing Then, Dominique Lévy will publish a catalogue featuring essays by scholars.

The catalogue will include a newly commissioned work by contemporary poet Mei-mei Berssenbrugge titled "Star Being." The book will also feature rare archival material; artists’ biographies; and a comprehensive chronology linking developments in the art world with the larger social and political events of the decade, including the Civil Rights Movement, Feminist Movement, Vietnam War, and widespread student protests.

1960s Radical Change

In the 1960s, the very notion of what drawing could be changed radically as the medium became an essential vehicle for artists giving voice to the most urgent issues of both art and the culture at large.

Drawing Then begins with a selection of works by Josef Albers, David Smith, and Barnett Newman—postwar masters whose innovations exerted palpable influence throughout the Sixties. Albers’s elegant, minimalist lines, on view in Reverse + Obverse (1962), from the collection of the Whitney Museum, laid the foundation for the linear expressions of Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, and Dan Flavin, among others.

Jasper Johns’s monumental Wilderness II (1963/70), a work loaned by the artist from his private collection, embodies a transitional moment in the exhibition, bridging the work of Abstract Expressionist painters and the postwar rise of Pop art. Johns’s drawing is complemented by Robert Rauschenberg’s breakthrough solvent transfer drawings; Cy Twombly’s gestural writing in crayon, house paint, and ballpoint pen; and Lee Bontecou’s otherworldy abstractions rendered in soot.

By contrast, the instantly recognizable imagery of Pop artists Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Tom Wesselmann—whose paintings are concertedly devoid of evidence of the artist’s own hand—are meticulously rendered in their works on paper.

1960s Exhibitions

Throughout the Sixties, gallerists, artists, curators, and critics sought to reconcile emerging movements in contemporary art through major exhibitions and essays.

In 1962, gallerist Sidney Janis mounted the pioneering survey International Exhibition of the New Realists. A year later, Lawrence Alloway, the curator of Six Painters and the Object at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, officially coined the term Pop Art, giving a name to the group of artists Janis had showcased.

Together these two exhibitions signaled a profound shift in ways of conceptualizing and representing the American still life, evincing the turn toward a culture steeped in the imagery of commercialism. In Drawing Then, Andy Warhol’s Heinz Tomato Ketchup with Campbell’s Soup Can (1962) and Roy Lichtenstein’s Ice Cream Cone (1963) epitomize that moment by combining satire and the visual language of advertising.

In 1965, Donald Judd’s texts on “specific objects” for Arts Yearbook 8 and Barbara Rose’s essay “ABC Art” in Art in America grappled with the ambiguities of three-dimensional works that defied the conventions of traditional painting and sculpture.

A year later, The Jewish Museum’s 1966 exhibition Primary Structures featured works by Dan Flavin, Ellsworth Kelly, and Anne Truitt. The hard, machine-like lines and reductive forms of their contributions to that show also characterize the artists’ contemporaneous works on paper. Flavin’s On No. 4 of June 16, 1964, featured in the exhibition, depicts just three lines on a black French rag paper and references one of the artist’s fluorescent light installations of that same year.

Lucy Lippard’s landmark show Eccentric Abstraction also opened in 1966 at New York’s Fischbach Gallery. But in a radical contrast to the “dead-set Minimalism” of Primary Structures, Lippard’s now-legendary exhibition showcased the work of Eva Hesse and Bruce Nauman, among others, who infused corporeality and the idiosyncrasies of the artist’s hand into their art.

Postminimal works on view in Drawing Then include Hesse’s Nine Circles (1968), a composition of flesh-like hues and organic circles, and a group of drawings by Nauman that find the artist manipulating his own body in space.

Photo above: Roy Lichtenstein, The Kiss, 1962. Graphite on paper, 21 1/4 x 16 1/2 inches (53.3 x 41.9 cm) © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein.

Exhibition dates of 'Drawing Then: Innovation and Influence in American Drawings of the Sixties', curated by Kate Ganz, at Dominique Lévy Gallery, New York (January 27–March 19, 2016)