Curator’s Essay

Drawing Conclusions
Ellen Keiter

Looking at art is an intimate, personal experience, one that is difficult to quantify. This is particularly true for drawings and works on paper, the small scale of which often necessitates a singular, one-on-one encounter. It is this close relationship between a viewer and an artwork that first attracted Wynn Kramarsky to drawing as a young man. Rather than fight the crowds in the European painting galleries at museums, Kramarsky relished the quiet solitude he found in the empty drawing rooms. There, without even a security guard present, he was able to look—really look—at the work before him.

It was these experiences that inspired Kramarsky to begin purchasing drawings more than fifty years ago. Why drawings? As Kramarsky explains, drawings “have an intimacy that I can’t find in other media. There’s something closer to the artist’s hand, the feel of paper, the tactile sense of it, which I don’t think paintings have.”1 Today more than 3,000 artworks have passed through his collection, arguably one of the most important private collections of contemporary drawings in the world. The Kramarsky Collection focuses on modern, minimal, conceptual, and process art from the 1950s to the present. It features some of the most recognized names in the art world, as well as the newest generation of contemporary artists. (This intentional melding of “namies” and “newbies” is a distinguishing characteristic of the collection and one that is promoted in its exhibitions.)

The drawings in the Collection are generally non-representational. Free from personal narrative and sentimentality, the art does not reference historical events or social concerns; it does not issue political declarations, nor does it contain hidden iconography or anecdotal subject matter. It is art in its purest physical form: line, color, shape, texture, and composition. Drawn/Taped/Burned: Abstraction on Paper celebrates the beauty of a fluid line, the energy of scrawling shapes, and the mood expressed by a single band of color. As the title suggests, the artists in the exhibition employ many materials in the service of mark-making—not just the traditional pen or pencil, but also ash, wax, string, smoke, tape, tea, and tar. Works on view range from an intimate, five-inch drawing by Jay Kelly to the life-size work of Jill O’Bryan.

Despite the non-narrative focus of the collection, the artworks may still be grouped into thematic categories. This term is used with some hesitation, as much of the art defies categorization or, more often than not, flows seamlessly between multiple classifications. Yet making connections and revealing relationships between artworks is useful in a comprehensive exhibition such as this, featuring 74 original works on paper by 66 artists. This dialogue, with its subsequent groupings, offers more personal insight than historical analysis, and is only one of many ways to approach and appreciate the aesthetic treasures in this collection.

  1. Barbara Pollack, “Werner Kramarsky,” ARTnews, Summer 1997, p. 84. []