Art since 1960 largely left behind clear distinctions between mediums, as artists began to use whatever means they desired to express their interests and ideas. What appears to have remained constant, however, is the necessity of the line as a fundamental building block of the visual experience. Just as artists exploded outside the boundaries between mediums, the traditional line of drawing migrated off the page and into space. Similarly, the classical comportment of dance shifted away from the ballet and theater stage, instead incorporating everyday movements frequently performed in non-traditional sites. While this tendency is sometimes referred to as the “deskilling” of art, many artists felt they were democratizing both the process of making and looking at art by allowing it to be made with everyday materials and gestures. Dance/Draw explores how these developments in visual art and dance began, and how they have shaped the art of today.
The exhibition is divided into four sections, beginning with “More Than Just the Hand.” This section shows the new and often very bodily ways in which drawings began to be made. Janine Antoni uses her eyelashes and mascara; Trisha Brown makes drawings with her feet; John Cage uses plants and seaweed; and Mona Hatoum uses human hair. Each artist in this section imagines that their entire body is capable of making a drawing, and in doing so the drawings share the feeling of being autonomous works as well as documents of the performances required to make them. This reliance upon and use of performance links these works, both implicitly and explicitly, to the realm of dance.
“The Line in Space” collects works that extend the concept of the line into three dimensions. Many of the works in this section use thread, string, or wire as a literal manifestation of the line. Ruth Asawa crochets wire to make bulbous hanging sculptures that evoke the human form, and Faith Wilding crochets fiber to create a room. Typically, art history has discussed these works in relation to “women’s work” and “craft” due to their use of traditional modes of needlework and because the artists were women. Dance/Draw suggests instead that we see the use of fiber and wire, as well as traditional techniques like knitting and crocheting, in relation to historical concerns with line.
The third section, “Dancing,” explores dance as it has been understood by both postmodern choreographers and contemporary visual artists. Charles Atlas’s “portrait” of choreographer Yvonne Rainer humorously frames her legendary challenge to traditional modern dance; Jérôme Bel’s Véronique Doisneau, 2005, bravely demystifies the ballet; Babette Mangolte’s photographs and films of Judson dancers Trisha Brown and Lucinda Childs show us the dancing body, in its entirety, rigorously defining itself as a line in space. “Visual” artist Klara Liden bursts into a dance performance on the public transit system as a way to destabilize public decorum; and Senam Okudzeto uses dance to investigate the social and political differences between Western Europe and West Africa. In this section an interesting distinction between visual artists and dancers emerges; dance is frequently used as a narrative device in the visual arts,whereas bodily and spatial issues appear to be of more interest to choreographers.
Finally, the section “Drawing” returns to drawing and a generation of younger artists for whom movement, performance, and drawing are ineluctably mixed. Here we see visual artists interested in the relationship between the performing body and drawing. For instance, Silke Otto Knapp hauntingly traces photographic images of dancers onto luminous silver-painted canvases; Helena Almeida draws, but has herself photographed while doing so, making her performing body and the drawing equivalent to one another; and William Forsythe imagines his dancing body as a series of drawn lines, making clear the ways in which dance and drawing emanate from the same source.
Dance/Draw is organized by Helen Molesworth, Chief Curator of ICA Boston. The exhibition was first shown at ICA Boston (October 7, 2011 – January 16, 2012) before coming to the Tang. Major support for this exhibition is provided by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Ronald and Ronni Casty, the HBB Foundation, and Jacqueline Bernat and Adam Hetnarski.
Dance/Draw is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue published by Hatje Cantz. The catalogue includes a conversation between the artist Paul Chan and curator Helen Molesworth; individual catalogue entries on each artist in the exhibition; as well as essays by Molesworth, Harvard University art historian Carrie Lambert-Beatty, and artist and critic Catherine Lord.