Drawn to Detail at the DeCordova

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An Arrangement, 2008, by Jim Dingilian

An Arrangement, 2008, by Jim Dingilian

Babel, 2007, by Carol Prusa

Babel, 2007, by Carol Prusa

Compensation for the Afferent and Efferent Delays in the Nervous System, 2006, by Martha Lewis

Compensation for the Afferent and Efferent Delays in the Nervous System, 2006, by Martha Lewis

Haeckel's Garden, 2008, by Mary O'Malley

Haeckel's Garden, 2008, by Mary O'Malley

One of the great things about art making is that there are no rules. Just as “art” is anything an artist decides it is, a “drawing” can be almost anything, from traditional mediums such as charcoal, graphite, or pen and ink on paper to pastels, watercolors, and oil stick. In general, any art created in an oleaginous medium tends to be seen as a “painting,” while art made by making marks in either a dry or liquid medium tends to be seen as a “drawing,” unless, of course, it’s a print.

Drawing, perhaps the most intimate and immediate form of art, is making a comeback both in the museums and the galleries. In keeping with the pluralistic, anything goes nature of contemporary art, the drawings in the “Drawn to Detail” exhibition at the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park in Lincoln, Massachusetts, (through January 4, 2009) push the envelope of what a drawing can be, ranging from penned and penciled images to images created using vinyl tape, heat, cut paper, even smoke.

“Drawn to Detail” features more than 70 works by 26 American artists “who explore extreme attention to detail, obsessive mark-making, repetition, patterning, laborious process, all-over intricate design, and horror vacui (fear of empty space).” As with contemporary art generally, many of the artists in the DeCordova’s drawing show evidence a fascination with the elegance of elaborate systems, from the biomorphic to the digital, and with fetishistic and eccentric processes.

Among the curiosities, for instance, are drawings created by Jim Dingilian using smoke inside glass bottles. Dingilian has previously applied his smoke-and-smudge technique to silver tea trays. The little scenes he creates by wiping away the soot inside the bottles seem impossibly delicate and transient.

Dave Eppley applies colorful vinyl tape to gallery floors and walls to create abstract patterns that might derive from computer circuitry or photographic pixilation.

Tom Friedman, a sculptor who has worked in everything from Styrofoam to spaghetti, makes drawings that resemble brain scans by creasing paper and tracing the creases. His often bizarre art speaks to the sense of information overload that defines 21st century life.

Jane Masters uses a woodburner’s tool to burn thousands of holes in heavy paper to create intricate designs and words in which the medium seems to be the message, as in “Obsessive Compulsive.”

Mary O’Malley, who teaches at the DeCordova, makes somewhat more conventional ink on paper drawings though her imagery is a strange combination of natural history illustration and lace patterns.

Kako Ueda, inspired by the paper stencils used to create kimono patterns in her native Japan, fashions intricate, blossoming forms from hand-cut black paper. Her paper cutouts are both delicate and powerful, like doilies of death.

Carol Prusa’s drawings are silverpoint, graphite, and titanium white with acrylic binder on acrylic hemispheres and fiber optics. Got that? Her domed drawings are like ethereal veils or bell jars, finesse in pursuit of the fantastic and fanciful.

“Drawn to Detail,” a complex, compelling and cutting edge exhibition, is one of the final shows organized by director of curatorial affairs Rachel Rosenfield Lafo in collaboration with Koch Curatorial Fellows Kate Dempsey and Nina Bozicnik. Lafo is one of New England’s most adventurous and insightful curators. Over the course of the last 25 years, she has managed to put a once sleepy little art park and museum in the country club suburbs outside of Boston on the art world map as a nexus of the new and the next.

Three months after the DeCordova hired a new director, however, Lafo tendered her resignation, effective November 1, explaining that the new director and board “seek a different creative direction for the museum.” To which I can only say, “Good lord, why?” We can only hope the DeCordova board knows what they’re doing and what they are losing in Rachel Rosenfield Lafo.

DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, 51 Sandy Point Rd., Lincoln, MA. 781-259-8355.


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