Curator’s Essay

One Line at a Time

Line. It is the basic component of almost any drawing. Its color, thickness, placement, and character (straight or sinuous) all elicit different visceral responses. And it is these responses that Kramarsky is most interested in: “I often speak about the fact that, as a viewer looking at a particular [abstract] image, you are not bound by the intent of the artist. You can bring to it what you wish….”1 Rather than rely on the artist for meaning, viewers must trust their own instincts and imaginations, their own experiences and emotions. Given time, the intuitive act of looking can be quite liberating, even enthralling. It is the patient viewer who reaps the greatest rewards of close observation.

Most minimalist artists in the Kramarsky Collection eschew illusion and representation in lieu of material, form, and spatial concerns. A confident minimalist statement is found in the colored ink lines of Robert Barry’s Untitled from 1965. Barry’s evenly spaced horizontal green and vertical red lines suggest the warp and weft of woven fabric, the straight lines drawn with a machine-like precision. The uniform lines rest solidly on the picture plane with no illusion of depth or movement. Here, Barry distills art to line and color. By contrast, in Untitled #396, Jay Kelly’s monochromatic lines vary in both density and position on a sheet of vellum. The darker pastel lines project forward while the soft gray ones appear to fade into the distance. A delicate graphite grid serves to balance the image and bind the vertical elements together. The drawing’s diminutive scale, five by five inches, demands an intimacy with the viewer, its rhythmic, asymmetrical composition inviting quiet contemplation.

The red horizontal lines in Mary McDonnell’s Untitled are distinctly hand-drawn. Each line represents a single, continuous sweep of the artist’s hand across the paper. The imperfect lines optically shift, activating the negative spaces in between. The composition is punctuated by “incidences,” blots of ink where either the nib of McDonnell’s calligraphic pen hit a raised fiber in the paper, or there was a momentary lapse in her concentration. Nevertheless, the serene, balanced composition communicates the meditative act of its creation. Conversely, Mark di Suvero uses line to convey energy and motion, similar to the way he uses steel in the monumental sculptures for which he is famous. In Untitled, a series of angular lines explode from the center of the drawing. Bold black brushstrokes are overlaid with a skein of silver lines, creating lively juxtapositions of dark and light, thick and thin. Di Suvero’s marks are distinctively his own, the strength of his sculptures poetically translated into two dimensions.

It is important to note, as exemplified by the first four artworks, that many drawings in this collection are untitled or simply identified by a date or inventory number. This is a typical practice of abstract artists, who do not want to infuse meaning into their work with leading or suggestive titles. For them, neutral names further reinforce the concept that the viewer is looking at an autonomous art object and not at an illusion of reality.

Throughout his prolific career, Sol LeWitt often worked out ideas on paper. LeWitt was concerned with the formal aspects of mark-making, such as how line and color could be used in different ways to create the perception of movement and space. Despite its banal, self-explanatory title, Horizontal Brush Strokes Not Straight suggests a turbulent sea. Bright primary colors break through the dark surface of overlapping lines, creating depth and motion. Each line is a single color, a single brushstroke. LeWitt employs an overall, expansive composition in which his serpentine lines flow off the edges of the paper. Likewise, Mark Sheinkman’s ribbons of gray in 9.21.95 twist and turn across the surface without a central focus. The silvery lines are rendered in graphite, with sweeping horizontal erasures that reveal the white ground beneath (the artist employs the pencil and eraser equally). Lyrical lines undulate and dissolve in a hypnotic dance between the physical and the intangible. Sheinkman’s surface shimmers like ripples on water, although with a quieter effect than LeWitt’s due to its rich tonal gradations.

Anne Chu and Robert Mangold use blocks of color to offset the curvilinear lines in their minimalist compositions. In Listen, Chu establishes a hierarchy of form: the pale yellow wash of an amorphous square supports an embroidered black box that, in turn, interlocks with a red painted flower form. The three simple shapes are a study in contrasts, and yet they harmoniously coexist. Indeed, the vibrant flower playfully swings from the dark, rigid square. In Plane/Figure Variant (Double Panel), Mangold drew two circular lines on flat planes of cool gray and warm yellow. The deceptively simple composition is energized by small asymmetries: the green line turns gray as it slips onto the yellow panel; the panels are slightly different widths, as are the diameters of the ovals. The two shapes gently meet, electrifying their point of contact. Mangold’s subtle suggestion of angled form is reminiscent of his large shaped canvases.

Annabel Daou depicts two disparate card houses in her diptych Mute, her thin graphite lines as tenuous as the structures they define. Minus their telltale numbers and suits, the playing cards are literally mute. Some of their surfaces are transparent while others are covered in small pieces of opaque white tape. Daou’s composition is also an exploration of geometric form. The rectangular cards and their triangular configurations comprise the building blocks of a loose grid, albeit a grid on the verge of collapse.

  1. Elizabeth Finch interview with Wynn Kramarsky, Summer 2010, online. []