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    Drawing Notebook
by N. F. Karlins
Petah Coyne
Richard Tuttle
Jake Berthot
Sean Scully
Holly Hughes
Regina Granne
Nancy Brett
"Drawing in the Present Tense" is a revealing and very lovely show about process. Personal drawings, jottings, scribbles and notebooks -- things that don't often leave the studio -- were coaxed from 37 artists. Some of the artists, like Tom Butter, are better known for their sculpture. Others, like Mary Miss, primarily make installations. A few, like Petah Coyne, were unsure they even had drawings (and as it happens, Coyne's large color-coded drawing-stencil used to assist with the installation of a sculpture turns out to be one of the most vibrant pieces in the exhibition). There are lots of surprises here.

This large show fills both the 5th Avenue and 13th Street galleries of the Parsons School of Design, where co-curator George Negroponte teaches drawing and his collaborator, Roger Shepherd, chairs the fine arts department. They have opted to display the works with no more information than the artists' names.

Over the two years that it took to organize the show, the artists became extremely enthusiastic. Richard Tuttle even offered to hang his piece himself. His three-dimensional folded cardboard and pencil piece raises the question of exactly what constitutes a drawing. That is the question that this show confronts and answers.

Drawings are often used as ways of approaching larger pieces, even if they are appreciated later for their own sake. Faith Ringgold's colorful drawing of a black woman's face -- actually Bessie Smith -- is one example. Another sketch on display shows where this portrait fit into one of the artist's Paris quilts.

A drawing as a vehicle for study is best exemplified by Jake Berthot's pencil analysis plotted over a Xerox copy of Cézanne's The Bather. His geometric dissection is a thoroughly engaging work in its own right.

One of the great things about this exhibition is the way it shows off an unexpected side of some of the artists. A group of sensational drawings in pencil with red-paint handprints is by Jadite dos Santos, better known for her installations. Amy Sillman's work is usually more abstract than the ink drawing here, which depicts her pooch on a striped cloth. She has lots more like this, I was told by Shepherd (who kindly walked me through the show). Why not a show of doggie drawings?

Ideas for pieces often arrive outside the studio, of course, and ideas for Sean Scully's large abstract paintings appear here on a stained napkin and a piece of stationery, possibly from a hotel. Don Porcaro put down some of his thoughts on a scrap of newspaper. They suggest volume and weight, appropriate for a sculptor. Holly Hughes has a fascinating little pile of what she calls "phone drawings," some double-sided and spinable on toothpicks.

Peter Nadin is especially resourceful, having torn up old drawings, both abstract and realistic, and then piled up the outtakes for reuse. Regina Granne keeps handsome sketches from her Italian travels as her source material.

Some of the pieces are quickly done but formally collected, like Joan Snyder's pencil slashings in a drawing pad. Others are more casually kept. One drawing by Nancy Brett bears the imprint of a sneaker.

Most of the works are cheerfully raw, but some are quite refined, including a Glenn Ligon piece about a work-study job at college and a Dorothea Rockburne drawing with sensual puddles of black ink or watercolor over a series of geometric shapes. All these pieces are attractive for a host of different reasons and would look fine on the walls of any museum.

You don't have to know anything about these artists to enjoy this show. But if you would like more info on the works or the artists, you won't find it on the walls, as I mentioned, or in the catalogue either. Frankly, the lack of data on mediums and dates drove me crazy, but that's probably an occupational hazard of being a critic. That said, the catalogue ($20) is visually alluring, illustrating at least one piece from every participant. Each is shown actual size, and there is an essay with brief quotes from the artists by Debra Bricker Balken.

The artists in "Drawing in the Present Tense" have all taught at Parsons over the last five years. The exhibition remains on view at Parsons through Dec. 13, after which it travels to Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic, Conn., Jan. 7-Feb. 27, 2000.

Paul Cézanne
Portrait of Vallier in Profile
ca. 1906
at Acquavella
The catalogue
*     *     *
About 180 degrees away from the drawings at Parsons are those in the dazzling exhibition titled "Cézanne Watercolors" at Acquavella Galleries on East 79th Street in Manhattan. They are exquisitely finished.

With pieces from public and private collections, the exhibition surveys Paul Cézanne's entire output. Arranged chronologically, you can watch reality dissolving into limpid planes of color. Especially wonderful is the Portrait of Vallier in Profile from 1906, the year of Cézanne's death. The old man evanesces before your eyes.

It is hard to believe that this is the first gallery show devoted to these works in 40 years. The exhibition is a benefit for the Department of Ophthalmology of the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia College, so your $10 entrance fee will be going to a good cause. The catalogue ($30), with an essay by Museum of Modern Art curator emeritus William Rubin, is also well worth the money.

The exhibition remains on view through Nov. 24.

N. F. KARLINS is a New York writer and art historian.