The point is ball-point in K.S. Art's "Ballpoint Inklings," one of the most beguiling group shows around at the moment. Works by art-world stalwarts like Elizabeth Murray and Thomas Nozkowski share the Tribeca gallery's white walls with up-and-comers, both the self-taught and the formally schooled. Encompassing more than 150 works by 35 artists, the show offers lots to see and never seems crowded. But you do have to go into a hallway to see everything.
Steve di Benedetto turns out looming helicopters in blue ink that seem to radiate energy blasts, while Lori Ellison's Minimalist designs have a squirmy energy all their own. In one blue and white work, stretched triangles seem to writhe within the confines of the sheet. Think Alma Thomas from the 1970s writ small.
Gary Stephan's relentless circles create wormholes into a different reality. One of his abstracts resembles a phallus design in an odd hooked rug. Whatever it is, it certainly is plenty interesting.
As are Katia Santibanez's five drawings utilizing the same patterns in different permutations and color combinations. Are those sprouting things grass? Hair? They're lively in refreshing tonal variations.
Chelo Amezcua combines philosophical comments with realistic images that morph into various abstract designs. She is a consummate draughtsman who really knows how to create powerful light/dark contrasts.
A calmer realism is at the heart of Rose de Smith Greenman's work. This artist, whose work was found by her heirs 16 years after her death, drew for a scant seven years, starting at age 72. De Smith Greenman (1898-1983) stopped drawing as suddenly as she started, leaving a visual record of her home and garden in the works on display, but has created fantasy pieces inspired by TV as well. Her arcing strokes recall penmanship exercises.
In New Irish Spring by R. Ray Hamilton, a ball-point master, bars of soap jostle the outline of a bottle of Thunderbird wine. In other pieces, he uses numbers to fill in the spaces around and between contour drawings of mundane images, like the soles of his feet.
For something more ethereal, there's Russell Crotty's PHI Virgins Triple Star in Virgo from this year, a large circle showing the heavens in delicately toned -- what else? -- ball-point.
"Ballpoint Inklings" in on view Apr. 10-May 24, 2003, at K.S. Art, 73 Leonard Street, New York, N.Y. 10013.
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Another smart group show a little further north is at SoHo's Drawing Center, a loan show from Great Britain's Tate. British artist Avis Newman was asked by Drawing Center drector Catherine de Zegher to select works reflecting her view of drawing. The wide-ranging and mind-bending results comprise "The Stage of Drawing: Gesture and Act."
Newman has mixed and matched pieces of 18th, 19th and 20th century British art with a fair smattering of European and American works to explore drawing as "a generative space of thought." Although there are some highly finished pieces, the tentative and risky are privileged.
The unconscious gets a workout in pieces like Rene Magritte's The Spirit of Geometry (1937), while systems of thought and chance take precedence in others, like Cy Twombly's Natural History, Part I, Mushrooms, No. 4 (1974). Newan's groupings explore how all drawings are a piquant and unequal combination of the thought and the unthought, the premeditated and the accidental.
The works bounce off each other in each of the show's four sections. The Magritte and Twombly are in "Coded Imprints." Perhaps the most eloquent and ingenious statement of Newman's approach to drawing can be discovered in this arena in a number of chalk figure studies by Joseph Mallord William Turner, all smudged from water damage due to a flood. The resulting figures are a combination of considered strokes and streaks across once water-saturated areas. Each drawing has been transformed and can be seen as remade well as "damaged."
In The Mirrored Self, a ghostly sketch of stick figures by Alberto Giacometti resides not far from a series of mostly oil-on-paper sprawling single figure works by Francis Bacon. In drawings made in preparation of a couple of large-scale interior paintings, Pierre Bonnard seems to be chopping out chunks of reality with his pencil. The range of self-imaging and self-imagining is immense.
Henry Fuseli's watercolor The Debutante from 1807 does, indeed, merit inclusion in "Invented Bodies" with the grotesque anatomical proportions. Similarly exaggerated but deliriously sexual is Aubrey Beardsley's Messalina and Her Companion, in which the huge, bare-bosomed Messalina strolls on tiny feet in beribboned pink shoes through a garden at night.
A series of variations on a Reaper by British artist Richard Hamilton and his countryman Eileen Agar's The Reaper, vividly illustrate how anthropomorphic machinery can be. And how very differently the same item can be portrayed by different artists.
"Chronicling Space" makes room for a Barnett Newman zip etching in black-and-white, an album of John Flaxman's sketches for monuments and a Lucio Fontana punctured canvas. Outstanding is a particularly delicious pastel by Edgar Degas. In Miss Lala at the Cirque Fernando, he records the dizzying feat of being suspended by your teeth above a crowd. Now that's a really unique view of space.
Of course, any of these works could be placed in other categories, and that's the point. To see them, whatever their emphases, as freewheeling investigations by their creators.
This must-see exhibition is a triumph for all concerned. Bravo Tate, Drawing Center, Catherine de Zehger and Avis Newman!
"The Stage of Drawing: Gesture and Act, selected from the Tate collection" is on view at the Drawing Center through May 31. After leaving New York, the show goes to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, Australia (June18-Aug. 24, 2003), then to the Tate Liverpool (Sept. 26, 2003-Mar.28, 2004).
The catalogue is as good as the show, with a particularly fine essay "On Drawing" by independent critic Jean Fisher. It's available for $50.
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Somewhere between wallpaper and painting are the large wall hangings in paint-on-paper and paint-on-canvas in "Expression by Design: The Brilliance of Swedish Folk Painting form Dalarna and Smland."
Scandinavia House is presenting 29 examples of these colorful folk works dating from the late 18th and 19th century. They replaced earlier, woven hangings and disappeared with the start of the Industrial Revolution.
Most illustrate Biblical passages, but there are a few with animals and plants and peasant genre scenes. All have simplified, flattened compositions in what once were bold primary colors. Because they were made with natural pigments, most have faded, yet enough of the reds, blues, black, greens and yellows remain to get a feel for these pieces, which provided both insulation and decoration for their owners.
There are several striking elements here: the use of flat pattern and, often, energetic, multiple designs, the use of contemporary Swedish dress in Biblical scenes (even the Israelites dancing around the Golden Calf are clad in cheerful Swedish folk costumes), and the use of Rococo floral arrangements that seem to explode with flowers as an eye-popping decorative element in almost every scene.
These rarely seen works all come -- except for one work on loan from the Volvo Group, one of the show's supporters -- from the Swedish American Museum Center in Chicago. They were collected by the indefatigable folk art collector Florence Dibell Bartlett, founder of the International Museum of Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico. "Expression by Design" is on view at Scandinavia House, 58 Park Avenue (between 37th and 38th Street), through July 12.
N. F. KARLINS is a New York critic and art historian.