- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 17, 2001

Curator Andrew Robison points to the confrontational "Woman's Head" by Constantin Brancusi, which opens the exhibit "A Century of Drawing: Works on Paper From Degas to LeWitt" tomorrow at the National Gallery of Art.

"Now that's just drop-dead gorgeous," Mr. Robison says.

As Mellon senior curator of prints and drawings, Mr. Robison put together the show with Judith Brodie, associate curator. The two decided to mount an exhibition of drawings from 1900 to 2000 to show the revolutionary changes of the period and the richness of the National Gallery's holdings.

The riches he notes range from Auguste Rodin's filmy female dancer (1905) to Egon Schiele's twisted, haunting self-portrait (1912). Others are Pablo Picasso's patterned charcoal of two fashionable women (1900 or 1901), George Bellow's tangle-of-lines street fight (1907), Winslow Homer's storm-tossed watercolor (1901) and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's reed pen-and-ink female nude on a beach (1912).

"All explore in very different mediums watercolor, gouache, graphite, charcoal, pastel, chalk, crayon, ink and combinations of them the new ideas exploding at the time. They depict both what they saw and what they imagine," Mr. Robison says.

Like others, Rodin used drawing to work through ideas. The curator urges that we look closely at the artist's "Dancing Figure," at the stretch of the model's back and leg and the transparent washes the sculptor laid on wire-thin outlines.

Artists such as Homer made formally thought-out images, as his dramatic "Coming Storm" emphatically confirms. He began using watercolor in 1873 and made some of the most amazing watercolors ever created during the next three decades.

Homer was confident of his ability to nuance colored washes and capture light and atmosphere when he made "Storm." He traveled from his home in Maine in the winters to Bermuda, where he continued to work. Watercolors, the artist believed, were among his best works. The exhibit's watercolor that shows water-spitting clouds and wind-driven trees is one of these.

Henri Matisse drew his stunning "Antoinette With Long Hair" as a fully realized work of art. The young woman was a favorite model during his first years in Nice, France. Matisse's pearl-gray graphite strokes could well reflect the silvery winter light he found in the South of France.

The artist evidently delighted in his consummate power in using pencil. He meticulously delineated Antoinette's features. Nuances of the graphite show her thick abundant hair falling downward. Light helps raise and contour the full, slightly sulking lips; left cheekbone; long nose; prominent jaw bones; and thick eyebrows. Her eyes directly engage the viewer, with the left noticeably larger than the right.

Like Homer, Matisse attached significance to "Antoinette" and other drawings made in Nice. He signed and reproduced "Antoinette" in a book he self-published in 1920.

• • •

The curators define drawings as unique works of art made on paper, especially when the paper shows. Mr. Robison and Miss Brodie demonstrate how artists changed the course and limits of drawing during the 100 years the exhibit covers. Although changes were brewing before, Picasso and Georges Braque were the prime revolutionaries to change drawing, just as they did painting. They used nontraditional materials, such as wallpaper, and played down the importance of hand marks.

The exhibit shows how the two mapped a course that had tremendous reverberations. Braque did "Aria de Bach," a "papier colle," with charcoal and white chalk in 1913. While living with Picasso in September 1912 near Avignon, Braque bought a roll of wallpaper that looked like oak paneling. He cut pieces and grouped them on paper for a composition.

The artist made 57 of these works between 1912 and 1918, and "Aria" is one of the best. The artist glued pieces of paper, two black and the third of the simulated wood, to suggest the materials of a musical instrument but not its exact appearance.

He connected them with the delicate chalk and charcoal outlines of a guitar and the cover of a musical score. As with his paintings and more developed collages, Braque divorced color from form. He substituted layered surfaces as a way of abandoning vanishing point perspective also called "the window into painting."

Mr. Robison emphasizes that modernist artists could be freer in drawing than with other mediums. "We heard reports about the death of painting premature it seems but drawings flourished throughout," he writes in the weighty, fully illustrated catalog. (Thirty experts contributed to it.)

"In the last decades, younger artists rejected painting somewhat. They turned against the art market and wanted to do new things like installations and lasers. But they all made drawings to extrapolate new ideas," he adds.

In the later galleries in the exhibit, Mr. Robison notes artists who consistently tested the limits of drawing. Dada artists cut photographs to use in drawings. French artist Jean Dubuffet used butterfly wings. Popster Robert Rauschenberg lifted images from newspapers and magazines. New York abstract-expressionist Helen Frankenthaler worked with colored papers and dyes while drawing, biting into and spraying paper pulp for "Freefall." (She gave it to the gallery in 1993.)

Minimalist Sol LeWitt dispenses with paper and rejects the idea that an artist's drawing must be made by the artist. Mr. LeWitt customarily encloses instructions for "drawing" his drawings, as with "Wall Drawing No. 26" (1969). Miss Brodie "drew" it here.

Christo literally wraps up the show with the two-part preparatory study for his grand-scale, public project, "Wrapped Reichstag, Berlin, 1971 to 1995."

Mr. Robison says he gave careful thought to mounting the exhibit. He found the collection rich in portraits and self-portraits and used them extensively.

Brancusi's female portrait at the start of the show looks directly at the visitor, as do the Antoinettes of the two Matisse pencil drawings. The eyes have it not only with the Brancusi and the Matisses but with images by Americans Marsden Hartley and Jim Dine, German Emil Nolde and Austrian Schiele.

In 1915, Ludwig Meidner drew the obscure historian and writer Hans Freimark lost in a reverie, looking intently down and to the side. Meidner dug his pencil deep into the paper to penetrate Freimark's psyche and physicality.

A more mature Schiele than the one of the "Self-Portrait" of 1912 portrayed "Dr. Koller" in 1918. The precisely drawn charcoal is one of nine extant preparatory studies for the prominent industrialist Hugo Koller's full-length oil portrait. Schiele emphasized Koller's scholarly interests by having Koller lean down as if over a book. The artist used only a few lines, combined with large areas of white paper, to suggest the abbreviated figure.

"Part of the challenge of making the art more enjoyable is putting the images together or contrasting them in surprising ways," Mr. Robison says.

Three brilliant color abstractions by Mark Rothko seem to jump at viewers as they enter Gallery 6. The Rothkos' similarity of format and size render them powerful.

The curator also juxtaposed three works each by Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell and Barnett Newman. Mr. Robison also included what he calls "the kickers, the surprises." He contrasted an energetic brush-and-ink-mixed-with-egg-yolk drawing by sculptor David Smith with an electrically splashed ink-on-Japanese paper by Jackson Pollock.

The curators begin the exhibit with a quote from sculptor Alberto Giacometti: "What I believe is that whether it be a question of sculpture or of painting, it is in fact only drawing that counts. If one could master drawing, all the rest would be possible."

They end the show with Mr. Smith's writing on an exhibit label: "Drawings remain the life force of the artist."

Visitors to the exhibition will also concur on the sheer delight of seeing these works.

WHAT: "A Century of Drawing: Works on Paper From Degas to LeWitt"

WHERE: West Building, National Gallery of Art, Fourth Street at Constitution Avenue NW

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays, from tomorrow through April 7


PHONE: 202/737-4215

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