Curator's Pick: Acquired Taste
By Mark Pascale
there are no department galleries for Prints and Drawings, we have not been
able to exhibit many of our more recent Contemporary acquisitions. Among these
are works by members of the SAIC community, including four drawings by H. C.
Westermann, over twenty drawings and a sketchbook by Christina Ramberg, drawings
by Laura Mosquera, Carla Arocha, Paul Wieghardt, and prints by Cosmo Campoli.
In addition, we have acquired some wonderful groups of drawings by Fred Sandback
(selected by the artist before his untimely death), Richard Tuttle, Robert and
Sylvia Plimack Mangold, William Kentridge, Lawrence Weiner, Alighiero Boetti,
Margherita Manzelli, Marlene Dumas, Barbara Kruger, and prints by Martin Puryear,
Terry Winters, Peregrine Honig, Enrique Chagoya, Tom Huck.
Three of the Westermanns seen here focus on a few themes important to his work. “Untitled” (1999.269) and “Airplane Hangar #211” (1999.270) present powerful commentaries on the American psyche; they depict abandoned places set in beautiful surroundings, and suggest both the misuse of nature, and nature exacting its toll. In “Untitled,” the artist places pyramids in a seemingly American landscape (there are scattered cacti and a steer skull in the foreground). That the pyramids contain, or seem to be composed of discarded tires is especially poignant. Here, Westermann shows us an icon of civilization (an architectural marvel astounding for its structural integrity), maimed and corrupted by a ubiquitous symbol of our throw-away culture—automobile tires. No doubt, Westermann had Las Vegas in mind when he created this drawing, and we can sense that his opinion is expressed by the cactus in the foreground, which is projecting a popular gesture of contempt at the pyramid of tires. “Airplane Hangar #211” similarly depicts a great American landscape viewed obliquely, with a runway and road pointed towards a horizon to nowhere in particular. All is decrepit and dilapidated, and the bleakness of these man-made elements is contrasted with a landscape that is robust, even reclaiming the land. At the far center of the composition, Westermann depicts a “natural” structure that recalls Devil’s Tower in Wyoming—here perhaps a symbol of the magnificence of the landscape, and the futility of humans’ endeavors to make it conform to their goals.
The third drawing, “Central America” (1999.271) exemplifies Westermann at his strangest and most entertaining. The drawing features a daring man (a self-portrait), fearlessly holding his ground against an attacking wolf-like creature, hilarious in its details and zestfully executed. With its blithe identification—Central America—and subject matter, the artist may have been attempting a comment on the dubious tradition of “the hunt” for exotic creatures in exotic places, but the awe inspired by the tradition initiated by Delacroix’s heroic recording of travel experiences is completely missing. If anything, he has created a caprice, in which he could indulge his brilliant fantasies for twists of flora and fauna (a frequent theme during this period). As we look around the composition, we marvel at the rocks anthropomorphizing into skull-like visages, silhouetted palm trees casting theatrical shadows (thus underscoring the implausible nature of this reality), a bunch of bananas morphing into a fish, and a completely incongruous red plant form that looks like it would be more at home on the ocean floor.
As the fall semester approaches, this is a good time to remind the SAIC community about how to use the Print and Drawing Study Room in the museum. While the room is open to everyone eighteen years of age and older, we see many more visitors from SAIC than anywhere else. We are open by appointment only, although it is generally possible to make an appointment during the week a guest contacts us.To make an appointment, one can come by in person, call, or email us. Currently, the collection is not available on line, unless you use a computer in the study room.
The collection includes about 80,000 works on paper of Western origin, from the 12th century to the present. The strengths are 19th century French prints and drawings, classic Modern, Rembrandt prints, early Italian drawings, Contemporary art, etc. A curator supervises the study room, and we are happy to help you navigate through the collection, most of which is available matted, without glass or plexiglass to interfere with your enjoyment. Japanese prints are not housed in our department; they are in Asian Art.
Mark Pascale is Adjunct Professor, Printmedia at SAIC and Associate Curator
of Prints and Drawings at AIC.