Art beat: Beyond the Pencil

Beyond the pencil

The MIA highlights recently acquired drawings

WHITTIER — A good place to start when discussing the Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ small but deeply satisfying show of recent drawings is with “Déjà Vu,” a 2004 “graphite” by the English artist Christopher Cook, because it so neatly ties together several themes of the show.

Cook is one of several artists in “Drawings for the New Century” to take an innovative approach to the traditional materials of the medium, in this case working with a liquefied mixture of graphite, resin and oil that is applied to the paper like paint (which is why he saw fit to coin the term “graphite” to describe his method). Elsewhere in the show, Mona Hatoum draws a delicate grid with knotted strands of human hair, and Susan Schwalb revives a Renaissance technique, metalpoint, to describe with bands of copper and silver — in a near-literal sense — the strata of the earth.

Even with only about 20 examples, the show also emphasizes the great variety in mark-making found in contemporary drawing. It argues for the inclusion of Mark Bradford, a Los Angeles-based artist who “draws” with paint and power tools on found objects — here, a handmade street sign offering help with eviction proceedings — alongside Nicola Hicks, who executes a gorgeous, full-length self-portrait in charcoal, adding cat ears to her head and a very slight feline snarl to her upper lip.

With Cook, there’s a tactile quality to the way he pushes his graphite sludge across the paper, conjuring the vacant, darkened interior of the Paris Opera House. The play between coal black and graphite tones is luminous, something like a silver gelatin process photograph, giving the Baroque-revival details a gothic opulence.

The special effects don’t end there. There’s also the photorealism of Patrick Lee, who tenderly dots every pore and traces every whisker on the face of a camo-wearing, goateed tough guy, and Cynthia Lin’s massive drawing of a mouth in extreme close-up, which at first looks like a strange nighttime landscape overhung by three pale moons (teeth, actually).

Just as ambitious is Siah Armajani’s “Mississippi Delta,” a huge triptych in colored-pencil that suggests the history of settlement along the river as it flows, left-to-right, toward an overturned car and half-submerged house representing the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina.


Go see it
“Drawings for the New Century” runs through Sept. 11 at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2400 3rd Ave. S. 870-3000. artsmia.org

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Two at Soo

THE WEDGE — The world seems to be unraveling in the paintings of Robert McCann, an assistant professor of art at Michigan State University whose recent work is currently hanging at Soo Visual Arts Center.

The strange, Boschian chaos unfolding in suburban parking lots and urban plazas hints at the loosening bonds of the American social contract. And with the surreal addition of comic book characters and Hollywood movie monsters, it seems the very fabric of reality is fraying at the edges.

In the context of McCann’s dense canvases, that last metaphor is probably an anachronism. It’s pixelation, that digital age scourge of visual information, tearing at his scenes, evoked by McCann’s habit of leaving portions of canvas unresolved. Drips of paint hang over his characters’ heads.

McCann’s troubling fantasies are difficult to parse; there’s a narrative, but it’s hard to follow. Which is probably his point: In this brave, new, media-saturated world, the haze of pixels threatens to drown out reality or — even more frightening — take its place.

Also showing at SooVAC is work by local artist Jessica Teckemeyer, who gives human struggle an animal face in two new sculptures.

Although life-sized, both the sculptures look something like the artist-designed vinyl miniatures sold at places like SooVAC’s former neighbor Robot Love (which closed late last year after moving to Northeast). Teckemeyer’s sculptures have the same smooth contours and matte finish of Dunny’s line of high-style cult collectibles, and they seem to aim for a similar aesthetic target: exactly half-way between cute and grotesque.

She gives us two dogs’ heads conjoined at the ear and wall-mounted at their muscular necks, as if by a taxidermist. One twin snarls menacingly and the other projects dog-like loyalty and trust, but their delicate connection implies a link between the poles of personality.

Remember that ’70s-vintage motivational poster with the fuzzy white kitten, urging you to “Hang in there, Baby”? Teckemeyer’s version is way less groovy.

Her kitten is a life-sized, sinewy cougar, hanging from the gallery ceiling by a rope clenched in its jaws. This isn’t just about perseverance; it’s a fight for survival.


Go see it
“You Had Me at Goodbye: Paintings by Robert McCann” and “We Are Animal: New Work by Jessica Teckemeyer” both run through May 22 at Soo Visual Arts Center, 2638 Lyndale Ave. S. 871-2263. soovac.org