Curator’s Essay

The Last Word

As demonstrated by Zito’s My Weight, Kramarsky collects drawings by artists who often incorporate text into their compositions. In 2006, Deborah Gottheil Nehmad presented Kramarsky with a unique “card” on the occasion of his 80th birthday. Nehmad drew eighty “80s” in various sizes among cascading letters spelling H A P P Y. She burned the letters, some intentionally backwards, into the handmade paper with hot metal stamps. Although Nehmad typically employs pyrography as a metaphor for physical pain, in this instance she used it to create a lively abstract composition. The repetitive, radiating scorch marks from the branded letters evoke the explosive patterns of a fireworks display.

Nehmad’s work also exemplifies the close relationship Kramarsky maintains with the artists whose drawings he collects. He supports them, not just by purchasing their work, but by following their careers, financing individual projects such as books and exhibitions, and helping to facilitate their connections in the art world whenever possible. The files in Kramarsky’s office contain numerous cards and notes exchanged between the collector and artists over the years.

Another work of a personal nature is Elena del Rivero’s Letter to Wynn Kramarsky. Here the artist typed a letter to the collector then rendered it illegible by marking over the text with gold paint. What del Rivero wrote is a mystery; all that remains visible is the date and the name of the recipient. Her painted lines form a solid linear block, as if the artist typed furiously without indentations or spacing. Simultaneously maddening and beautiful, Letter is an exploration of meaning, perhaps inspired by the artist’s personal efforts to learn English (or a commentary on the lost art of letter writing). After renowned abstract artist Agnes Martin died in 2004, Karen Schiff began collecting her obituaries from newspapers printed around the world. Reading and rereading the articles (Martin was one of Schiff’s main artistic influences), she became fascinated by the geometries of the text. For Agnes Martin, “College Art Association News,” March 2005 opening, I, the artist placed a sheet of translucent vellum over the newsletter and traced only the column pertaining to Martin’s death. She adhered red pieces of Rubylith (plastic film) to indicate the location of photographs on the two-page spread. Schiff’s airy, minimalist aesthetic is not dissimilar from the art of her mentor. Paradoxically, the power of del Rivero’s and Schiff’s compositions derive from their intentional omissions of the written word.

An amateur astronomer, Russell Crotty made his large ink and graphite drawing Hale Bopp Over Acid Canyon in 1999. His circular composition gives the impression of gazing at the double-tailed comet through the lens of a telescope. Crotty’s romantic skyscape is countered by its earthly location: Acid Canyon, a dumping ground from 1944 to 1964 for treated and untreated radioactive waste from the Los Alamos Labs. Crotty’s horizon of handwritten text mimics the craggy New Mexico desert landscape. He compellingly connects the wonder of a once-in-a-lifetime cosmic event with the earthly reality of environmental devastation.

Stefana McClure utilizes an inventive transcription system that crosses cultural and language barriers to create drawings of delicate beauty. In An Inn in Tokyo: Intertitles to a Silent Film by Yasujiro Ozu, McClure transferred each frame of the film’s dialogue onto a single sheet of wax transfer paper. For this laborious process, the artist copied the text onto successive sheets of tracing paper placed atop the wax transfer paper; the pressure of her pen gradually eroded the surface of the wax transfer paper below. McClure took great care to ensure that the information is formatted exactly as it appears on the screen. The columns of ghostly white boxes echo the shape and placement of the Japanese characters in the film. Ironically, the aggregation of characters renders the work illegible and abstract (the film is literally “lost in translation”).