Curator’s Essay

In the End

Kramarsky states, “I get asked all the time, ‘Which is your favorite drawing?’ and I usually say “What time is it?” because it changes all the time.”1 One artist that Kramarsky has long admired and collected is Eva Hesse. Her 1965 drawing Untitled encompasses many of the themes examined in this essay. Hesse’s asymmetrical grid of disembodied and phallic forms synthesizes both geometric and organic abstraction. She contrasts flat, monochromatic areas with shaped elements, some of which stretch across the individual panels. Her gouache—limited to black, yellow, white, and pink—is thick and opaque. Hesse’s compartmentalized drawing is like a page torn from a scientific journal: each frame contains an unknown object whose mysteries are waiting to be explored.

The Hesse drawing is a promised gift to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In true philanthropic spirit, the collector has donated thousands of drawings to distinguished museums and university-based institutions over the years, including the Arkansas Arts Center, the Brooklyn Museum, the Hammer Museum, the Harvard Art Museum, the Hood Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery of Art, the San Diego Museum of Art, the University of Alaska Museum of the North, the Yale University Art Gallery, and the Weatherspoon Art Museum, among others. Kramarsky desires that his drawings be seen by as many people as possible and, similar to exhibitions drawn from the Collection, his donations almost always include a combination of “namies” and “newbies.” This practice allows lesser-known artists to be incorporated into prominent national collections.

Kramarsky’s passion for abstract drawing derives, in part, from its immediacy—its sensuous, tactile qualities, the revelation of its creation, the tracing of the artist’s hand. His interest lies in material and process rather than subject matter, and his collection showcases artists’ ingenuity in using unconventional media and inventive drawing techniques. Most importantly, Kramarsky revels in the simple yet potent experience of looking. During a public discussion at the Krannert Art Museum, in conjunction with the exhibition Drawings of Choice, Kramarsky stunned (and likely delighted) his audience by removing a Louise Bourgeois drawing from the gallery wall and passing it among visitors. “This,” he exclaimed, “is the way you look at drawings, up close!”2 Visitors to Drawn/Taped/Burned: Abstraction on Paper are also invited to get up close and personal with the art on view. They should check any preconceptions about abstract art at the door and trust in the authentic act of looking. There are discoveries to be made and adventures to be had in thoughtful, careful observation. And, who knows, perhaps viewers will experience the wide-eyed, childhood sense of wonder that Kramarsky once did.

  1. On Drawing: A Conversation with Werner H. Kramarsky, Connie Butler, and Harry Cooper (Southern Methodist University, 2000), p. 6. []
  2. James Cuno, “Drawing is His Kind of Language,” 560 Broadway: A New York Drawing Collection at Work, 1991-2006 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), p. 107. []