This exhibition of works represents the moment in post-war art when figuration begins to return after a long period of Abstract Expressionism. Works on paper seem to represent the starting point; the beginning of an idea, and similarly, collage, even as a finished work, has the feeling of a ‘scrapbook’ or record of different ideas coalescing.
In some of the earliest drawings in the show, Stones Sketch for Us, 1957 by Larry Rivers and Sketch for ‘The Critic Smiles’, 1959 by Jasper Johns, the viewer is confronted with images that are physical and intimate. The figures in Stones Sketch for Us are dissected in a way that makes one aware of the body: sketches of hands with no arms, faces and necks with no bodies, and figures melding into one another forming one ‘self’. In Johns’s Sketch for ‘The Critic Smiles’, a toothbrush that replaces bristles with human teeth is represented, once again bringing to mind the physicality of the body and the intimate act of grooming one’s self. Lee Bontecou’s Untitled, 1972-73 confronts the viewer directly with eyes peering out of a machine-like face. The segmented composition is unsettling; the main components of a human face and neck are present, but the figure itself is not entirely ‘human’.
In collages by Robert Rauschenberg, Untitled (Self-Portrait for Dwan Gallery poster), 1965, and Larry Rivers, Untitled, 1963, the figure is prominent, yet, the works incorporate many other elements, particularly through the artists use of disparate and multilayered materials. Kusama’s Flowers and Self-Portrait 1973 also explores figuration and identity but uses the incorporation of other imagery, in this case, of the natural world rather than through media.
In opposition to this type of collage is Roy Lichtenstein’s Golden Sand, 1966, that by comparison, may look abstract but still relates to the physical world. At first glance, James Rosenquist’s Trial Proofs and Working Materials for ‘Horse Blinders’, 1972, seems to be almost as abstract as Lichtenstein’s landscape. Yet, upon further observation, the details break down to reveal an extremely physical and multifaceted composition which explores the modern individual’s feeling of disconnection due to technological development.
Robert Morris’s Memory Drawings, 1963, explore the function of ‘memory’ in terms of biology and cultural influence upon the individual through the use of text. By writing these ideas out in script the ‘idea’ itself begins to take on a physical presence. In what may be the very first example of a ‘text drawing’, Morris makes the text an object as well as an idea. Similarly, in The Critic Sees by Jasper Johns, the text reinforces and wryly twists the meaning of the work.
Through these very tactile drawings and collage one can see the reemergence of the figure in varying and interesting ways. In addition, one is able to track the rise of new ideas in art that dominated the 1960s and 70s such as Pop, Minimalism and Conceptualism.
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