Sculptors on Paper presents prints and drawings by nine artists known primarily for working in three dimensions. Part of a series highlighting objects from the David Winton Bell Gallery’s permanent collection, this exhibition sheds light on the parallel, often under-recognized practices of these artists, and provides an intimate lens into their working methods.
It is often said that drawing offers a critical space for experimentation; a place to sketch plans and work through ideas before committing them to more permanent media. As Lee Bontecou noted in 1971, “you can do a drawing and rip it up the next minute — its easier in a way, less final.” For many of the artists in this exhibition, drawing presents a means for working through aesthetic problems. In 5748 (1987–88) and Untitled (1992) Joel Shapiro manipulates rectangles, squares, and circles into various configurations that suggest preliminary studies of sculptural arrangements. Likewise the four pastel sketches by Charles Hinman are each meditations on the kinds of geometric shapes he produces as wall reliefs. For her part, Bontecou explores the formal relationships between the natural and manmade worlds, without the material limitations of either. In Untitled (1967) she envisions what she called a fantastical “worldscape” — part scientific rendering, part surrealist landscape — in which the wings and fins of animals coalesce into mechanical parts. Looking at Untitled alongside her increasingly anthropomorphic sculptures from the same period, as well as the celestial contraptions made decades later in the 1980s, it is clear that the hybrid visual language Bontecou develops on paper informs her treatment of sculptural volumes.
Barry Le Va’s Plan View for Sculptured Wall (1990) is also a working drawing. Le Va maps the kind of architectural disruption typical of his installation practice in roughly sketched lines. Like Sol LeWitt’s instructions for wall drawings, Le Va’s Plan is a blue print for sculptural actions that can be repeated and expanded upon. Subject to variation and interpretation, Plan is both a record of process and an end unto itself.
Several artists in the collection use drawing as a space to pursue separate but related interests. Oldenburg’s Scissors Obelisk (1968), for example, is part of a series of proposed monuments he produced during the 1960s, which question the nature of commemorative sculpture and its relationship to architecture. Absurd in both scale and subject, Scissors Obelisk reimagines the classical monumental form of the obelisk as a mundane household tool. Some of Oldenburg’s proposed monuments were realized as actual sculptures, such as Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks (1969), but most remain abstractions, logistically and physically unrealistic.