Drawn to Detail at the DeCordova

Clearly I'm a bit behind on the art writeups here. I was at the opening for the DeCordova's drawing show, "Drawn to Detail" with erstwhile museum buddy L some weeks ago. As usual, the opening was way too crowded to really see the work, but I did run into some nice art scene folks and even some of the artists.  Oddly, I was mistaken for one of them twice. I came back a few days later to have a quieter look at the work and also to pick up the catalog, something I seldom do. The show is still up and I suggest you get over there and have a look right away.  The sculpture garden is exceptionally beautiful in fall, too.

Drawn to Detail is comprised of works by more than 20 artists, each working in a medium that could be called drawing. Some are more clearly making marks on paper with ink, and some are doing things that are less traditionally categorized. All are working in highly detailed, often repetitive, possibly compulsive and sometimes conceptual modes.  I won't try to discuss every artist in the show, but here are a few that caught my fancy.

Martha Lewis' work is less obsessive and repetitive than that of some of her gallery-mates, but it's no less interesting. She draws on the visual language of floor plans, circuit diagrams, mechanical and engineering schematics and more to create collage-like works that echo Wright and Mondrian with a touch of futurism and machine-age constructivism.

Tadashi Moriyama's work reminds me of that of Adolf Wolfli (a poster child for "art of the insane" who was institutionalized most of his life) in its naivety and also its apocalyptic incantory repetition. I wonder if Moriyama is channeling such images consciously or simply conducting his subconscious directly onto the paper.

Andrea Sulzer showed two wall-sized drawings, each about 8 feet square and simply pinned to the walls unglazed and unframed. It was a bit unnerving to be so close to the naked paper and ink, but that's the best way to experience a drawing, isn't it? Sulzer's work looks like a big abstraction from a distance, but as you get closer and let the drawing fill your visual field, you start to see bits of figurative elements inside the sweeping compositions.

Martin Wilner makes long accordion sketchbooks that capture new york city subway rides in a dense mass of talk bubbles and limbs. Far more figurative than most of the rest of the show, Wilner's drawings do a great job of conveying a particular experience

Daniel Zeller's work is like the organic foil to Martha Lewis' harder-edged scientific imagery. Zeller makes images that are inspired by weather maps, anatomical illustration, microscopy and elevation maps. They look like living organisms somehow captured up close or maps of hidden attributes like the migration patters of unseen insects or the flow of unknown currents through terrain.

Looking at the show made me think of how people once classified as insane and locked away are better understood and integrated into society today. Asperger syndrome and autism are all over the mainstream media, the idea of the "idiot savant" is discredited but our appreciation for people who process the world very differently is much greater.  Popular television characters have all kinds of once-shadowy conditions, like obsessive-compulsive disorder.  I don't mean to say there's something wrong with any of the artists in this show, but simply that the idea of what behavior gets classified as "something wrong with" isn't what it used to be, and that's probably good.  Artists whose work engages with these themes no longer has to get lumped with "outsider art" or "art of the insane."  Judge for yourself.  Get over to Lincoln right away.

And if you can't get to Lincoln, look into the DeCordova's YMOD group's SoWa Art Walk on October 23.

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  1. [...] worth doing.  It reminds me of some of the work in the DeCordova’s show Drawn to Detail, blogged here at limeduck almost exactly a year ago.  To quote from the artist’s statement, These recent works create micro-organisms that seem [...]

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