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Elise Engler
Everything in her Bag
at Gallery 402

Elise Engler
Refrigerator #7 (Zoo)

Elise Engler
Refrigerator #7 (Zoo)

Jacob Lawrence
Red Earth -- Georgia
at DC Moore

Jacob Lawrence
Subway Acrobats
at DC Moore

Installation view of Lawrence's
Builders -- Playroom and Builders -- Six Men
at DC Moore

A Man Riding a Bull and Other Figures
ca. 1518
at the Met

Allegory of Vice
ca. 1530-31

A Self-Portrait

The Virgin Holding the Dead Christ on Her Lap
ca. 1524-25
Drawing Notebook
by N. F. Karlins

Elise Engler's current "Drawings" show at Gallery 402 down in Tribeca features works from three separate artistic projects, all of them personally revealing. "Everything in her Bag" is a kind of tell-all done in collaboration with other women. Each work chronicles a woman's life (or at least an important slice of it) through Engler's drawing of the woman's purse or backpack and every item on it or in it, including individual coins, snapshots, business and bank cards (with names and numbers blurred for privacy), even a stray popcorn kernel. The drawings also include, needless to say, a truly astonishing array of junk -- er, personal items.

In one of the nine works from the series, a backpack comes with -- among many other things -- a passport, glasses, a lotto ticket, Fixodent, paper tattoos and a large number of Tootsie-Pops that march across the page. Engler's thumbnail-sized colored-pencil drawings of each item, no matter what their true size, are arranged into grids on paper 12 inches wide, allowing the rows of drawings to continue down the sheet to whatever length is required.

Engler's pictorial lists permit the viewer to immediately perceive the relative number of pictures of people (or dogs) vs. credit cards, or how many pieces of currency vs. Ralph-Nader-for-President buttons are owned. These colorful still-life collections add up to vibrant and surprisingly intimate portraits.

Technically, no matter how interesting as social documents, Engler makes a parade of food coupons look as lovely as a doggie bag from a Korean restaurant. She has finished 55 out of a projected 100 drawings to date.

Another series is Engler's "Fifty Refrigerators." My favorite is Refrigerator #7 (Zoo), with its charts, pails of pellets, fish, bunches of fruit and lots and lots of dead rodents. (I counted 36.) Elsewhere, I was as intrigued by a doctor's fridge with its hepatitis vaccines and syringes along with a lone carton of half-and-half, and an office fridge with a seemingly endless supply of Diet Snapple. Snapple ought to pay Engler an advertising fee.

Drawings from Engler's "Bag" and "Refrigerator" series range in price from $600 to $1,600.

Also on view is Engler's Everything I Need to Make a Drawing, with its images of headphones, Gumby and lines and lines of pencils. It only hints at her first project, the one that inspired the "Bag" and "Refrigerator" series. It was called "Everything that I Own" and involved making drawings of all 13,127 objects in her apartment.

"Elise Engler: Drawings," through Mar. 2 at Gallery 402 (Organization of Independent Artists, 19 Hudson St., #402).

PS: Engler has started another series, making postage-stamp-sized drawings of art works by the famous and obscure, entitled "Everybody Gets One." You can see her at work on that project during her upcoming exhibition at Art Resources Transfer, 210 11th Avenue, #403, Feb. 28-March 24, 2001.

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Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000), one of America's great painters, is being honored with a mini-retrospective of 30 paintings and drawings at the DC Moore Gallery. Lawrence's snappy images of black life in his own homegrown brand of Cubism were acclaimed while he was still in his 20s. He faded from view for a while, but was rediscovered in the last few years.

Works at DC Moore range over six decades of Lawrence's long career, from Christmas (1937) in egg tempera on hardboard to two gouache-on-paper pieces dated 1998 from his extended series "Builders." He started "Builders" in the late '40s after the success of his "The Migration of the Negro" series of 1941 (recently shown at the Museum of Modern Art). The artist worked on "Builders" for the remainder of his life, but especially after his move to Seattle in 1971, when he took up a permanent teaching position at the University of Washington.

Born in Atlantic City, N.J., Lawrence was 13 when his family moved to Harlem. He painted the world around him with accuracy and compassion, often showing the heroism of blacks struggling to survive. He was a master designer and great colorist, who used bright primaries and neutrals to create contrasts that energize each part of his pictures.

His social commentary is embedded in his observations, as in Red Earth -- Georgia, an egg tempera on hardboard from 1947. A black man drags a cotton sack and a black woman drags a child before a line of wooden shacks. The lower portion of the work is a dazzling red-orange abstract of the red clay soil of Georgia that balances the busy figure composition above. Lawrence doesn't have to preach or shout. With work this eye-opening, you know what he's thinking.

It's a tragedy that Lawrence died before he could be adequately appreciated again. A catalogue raisonné, "Over the Line: The Art and Life of Jacob Lawrence," was published late last year and a large retrospective with the same title is to start its two-year national tour at the Phillips Collection in May. Other stops slated for the exhibition "Over the Line" are the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Detroit Institute for the Arts, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Museum of Fine Art in Houston.

"Jacob Lawrence: Memorial Exhibition" is on view at DC Moore Gallery (724 Fifth Avenue) through Mar. 3.

*      *      *
The Metropolitan Museum of Art's "Correggio and Parmigianino: Master Draftsmen of the Renaissance" may have sounded like a good way to showcase the work of two of Parma's most famous artists. But few who have not seen the ascending figures in church domes painted by Correggio will be sold on him as a master, I fear, while Parmigianino steals the show.

The Met has rounded up over 130 sheets from this country and England. Not an easy task, especially in regard to Correggio (ca.1489-1534), for whom only a few drawings survive. Only 36 of the drawings are by Correggio, and many are rather staid sketches for church decorations.

Clearly, Correggio is a more important painter than draughtsman. Just look at the head on the body of the Man Riding a Bull and Other Figures, ca. 1518. It's downright odd.

In these drawings, you can see the free use Correggio made of classical precedents and admire his efforts to perfect Leonardo's sfumato, a soft modeling of the line like smoke. He is also remembered for his versatile use of white heightening along with chalk, ink and wash as in his Adoration of the Shepherds (ca. 1522).

While this Parmese will not get his due from this exhibition alone, his red chalk Allegory of Vice (ca. 1530-1), several sweetly sensual drawings of Eve and a singularly wild early sketch for his The Madonna and Child with Saints (ca.1523) do stand out.

Parmigianino (1503-1540), who seems to have worked with Correggio in Parma for a short time, is another matter. Even with the inevitable loss of work over the years, more than a thousand sheets remain by this wiz, reputedly as restless as Correggio was reticent.

The trajectory of Parmigianino's career veered from the Renaissance into the exaggerated grace of Mannerism with its elongation of the figure. That said, Raphael is never far away in his work. The artist is reputed to have visited Raphael's workshop while in Rome where he was seen as similar to, even embodying anew, that already dead master.

A red chalk Self-Portrait (ca. 1524), done when Parmigianino would have been about 21, shows him near the beginning of his short career, probably before he left Parma for Rome.

The 98 drawings of his at the Met are an excellent introduction to his wide-ranging skills as a draughtsman. Parmigianino wedded drama to grace as in his ink and wash The Virgin Holding the Dead Christ on Her Lap (ca. 1524-5) and the later Standard Bearer (ca. 1530-40). Some time after his return to Parma in 1530, he turned to alchemy, which distracted him from his work and undermined his finances. Still, we must be thankful for the passion with which he infused these marvelous drawings.

Already seen at the British Museum, the exhibition at the Met was organized by George R. Goldner, the Drue Heinz chairman, and Carmen C. Bambach, associate curator of the museum's department of drawings and prints.

"Correggio and Parmigianino: Master Drawings of the Renaissance," through May 6, 2001, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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