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    Drawing Notebook
by N. F. Karlins
Hedda Sterne
ca. 1985-90
at CDS Gallery
Hedda Sterne
ca. 1985-90
Hedda Sterne
ca. 1985-90
Kwang-Young Chun
Aggregation AUOO-182
at Kim Foster Gallery
Kwang-Young Chun
Aggregation AUOO-189
John Constable
Woodland Scene Overlooking Dedham Vale
at Salmagundi Club
John Constable
Cloud Study
ca. 1821 or 1822
Eugène Delacroix
The Sultan of Morocco and his Entourage
ca. 12855-56
in "Romanticism and the School of Nature" at the Met
Gustave Courbet
A Wave Breaking Under Storm Clouds
ca. 1870
Léopold Boilly
Grimacing Man (Self-portrait)
ca. 1822-23
Thomas Couture
Pierrot in Court
Lajjo Korwa
in "Korwa Drawings"
at the Drawing Center
Hedda Sterne's works, whether paintings or drawings, have always had "push," a sort of trapped energy that radiates outward, like energy from a pellet of plutonium. From the abstract paintings in the 1940s and 1950s that resulted in her being dubbed one of the "Irascibles" (pictured in the famous 1951 photo cover of Life magazine) to her current drawings in her show at CDS Gallery (plus the portraits, the richly-colored "Verticals/Horizontals" series and her imaginative abstractions of plant life in between), Sterne has represented the life-force inherent in her subjects, whether animal, vegetable or mineral.

Sterne's untitled works in "A Collection of Wordless Thoughts" at CDS are as lively as ever. Faces coalesce, seem to look you in the eye, then dissolve all at once. Subtly colored, the 18 drawings are fashioned from graphite, gesso and a dash of oil pastel, crayon and/or gouache. They cost $3000 each. Two paintings, one small floral that reminds me of Georgia O'Keeffe, and a large tree in white, grays and black round out this impressive exhibition.

My only question is: when is the Whitney, MoMA or Met going to give Hedda Sterne the retrospective she deserves? She's the last of Irascibles and still working at full tilt in her 80s. Isn't it time to take a look at her accomplishments? Her last major show, covering 50 years of drawings, was in Caen, France, in 1998. Her last retrospective here was 15 years ago in Queens! The one before that was in 1977 in Montclair, N.J. Until Sterne's big show, we'll have to make do with this little one.

Through Nov. 30, 2000, at CDS Gallery, 76 East 79th Street in Manhattan.

*      *      *
Like caterpillars, off-white, pale yellow, brown and all manner of shades in between, miniscule packages wrapped in printed mulberry paper squirm over the surfaces of Kwang-Young Chun's "Aggregations." These knobby, three-dimensional and large (roughly five by four feet) wall pieces, now at the Kim Foster Gallery, mesh East and West. They combine a poetic use of materials with formal vigor.

Chun's father is a doctor of herbal medicine in Korea, where the printed mulberry paper used here (taken from Chinese and Korean books) was and to a certain extent still is used for holding herbal medicines from house rafters to escape the damp and insects. Mulberry paper was also used in windows, according to an essay by Kwang-Su Oh, available at the gallery. Hence, these pieces are redolent with sensations of good health and light.

At the same time, they seem animate, tiny creatures curious about the world in which they find themselves. Being massed in Cubist grids provides a sense of control over these wisdom-wrapped wrigglers. The low relief of these works begs to be touched, and I could barely keep my hands off them.

Chun's "Aggregations," which he has been making since 1994, are assembled by cutting out bits of mulberry paper imprinted with Chinese characters, wrapping them around Styrofoam triangles, twirling more paper to make string, then binding each unit together. Finally, he uses Korean cement to secure them onto plywood backing. Because the books he uses are all at least 80 years old, he has access to a range of naturally occurring pale tonalities. Chun adds tans and browns by dipping the paper in tea.

The larger pieces are $20,000, with a few sized at 24 by 29 inches at only $6,000. The exhibition is up till Nov. 11 at Kim Foster Gallery, 529 West 20th Street in New York's Chelsea district.

*      *      *
Lucky were the art-world cognoscenti who were able to see a private collection of about 50 works by John Constable (1776-1837) at Salmagundi Club in Greenwich Village. "Constable at Salmagundi Club" features the collection of art-club member Sir Edwin Manton, who grew up in Constable country, East Anglia's Stour Valley and Hampstead Heath near London. Not everything is up to the level of several pencil drawings, like his Salisbury Cathedral from the North-West (1830s), but it's all interesting.

Constable's small oil, Woodland Scene Overlooking Dedham Vale (1802-3), with a small figure disappearing up a hill to the right, looks forward to his first public success, Dedham Vale of 1811. His Flailing Turnip-Heads -- East Bergholt (ca.1812-15) is a wonderful small canvas that illustrates the rural world of the artist's birthplace. Also good are his two Cloud Studies from 1821-22.

A paint box belonging to the artist, the bladders now black and only a blue vial of smalt holding its color and a series of tiny octagonal views by Edward Dayes that he once kept in an album round out the show.

"Constable at Salmagundi Club" was on view Oct. 14-Nov. 2, 2000, at the club, which is located at 47 Fifth Avenue.

*      *      *
If you couldn't make it to Salmagundi Club, you can still locate some excellent examples of Constable's art, including several double-sided Cloud Studies among the 115 works in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's "Romanticism and the School of Nature: Nineteenth-Century Drawings and Paintings from the Karen B. Cohen Collection," another show devoted to a private collection.

Karen B. Cohen, who has amassed the largest collection of works by Eugène Delacroix in private hands, has also bought works of those associated with him or with the artistic concerns of his period. I counted about 20 drawings and a few small oils by Delacroix, including his pencil study, The Sultan of Morocco and his Entourage, the key to how he transformed an earlier painting into two slightly different later ones, all of similar composition. Cohen has promised a group of 21 Delacroix pieces to the Met.

Among nine oils by Gustave Courbet, his turbulent "A Wave Breaking under Storm Clouds" (ca.1870) is especially exciting. The show is a must-see for any drawings lover with six pieces by Louis-Léopold Boilly, including a mugging self-portrait, seven each by Constable and Narcisse Diaz (his freely rendered small landscapes are delightful), and 13 drawings by Thomas Couture, a neglected draughtsman whose chalk Pierrot in Court is worthy of study.

"Romanticism & the School of Nature" is up through Jan. 21, 2001. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

*      *      *
I mentioned the Tantric drawings from India and works by the late Indian artist Acharya Vyakul brought to New York by the poet Franck André Jamme in my last column, and my colleague Max Henry recently reviewed Jamme's own books. Jamme is also the man behind "Korwa Drawings: Contemporary Tribal Works on Paper from Central India," now at the Drawing Center's Drawing Room.

The Indian government tried to transform the Hill Korwa tribe of nomadic hunter-gatherers into farmers by giving them land in the 1950s. The land turned out to be poor, and the Korwa have remained poor and illiterate. The Indian poet Swaminathan visited them in 1983 and attempted to communicate by drawing signs. This stimulated the Korwa to ask for materials to draw themselves.

Jamme stayed with the Korwa in 1996 and collected a number of vibrant drawings. Many have what look like Hindi characters, although the Korwa do not know that written language or any other. The works are usually in one vibrant color with small markings distributed in a variety of spatial arrangements. They would not look out of place in a Soho gallery -- like this one.

But hurry! The exhibition closes Nov. 9 at the Drawing Center's Drawing Room at 35 Wooster Street in SoHo.

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