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Tracking COVID-19 at UCLADance Disassembled: Seeing Beyond the Curtain

Drawing from experience

By Clara Polley

Jan. 28, 2008 9:06 p.m.

The upcoming drawings exhibition at the Getty Center turns on itself, exposing each piece’s acquisition history as well as its creation.

While “Ten Years of Drawings: What, How, and Why” features a history of drawing as well as the evolution of drawing techniques over the centuries, the curators of the exhibition, which opens today, also want to give visitors a chance to find out more about the Getty’s collecting policies.

With the backdrop of the Getty Center’s 10th anniversary, Dr. Lee Hendrix, senior curator in the Department of Drawings, explained that the exhibition is an attempt to help visitors understand why they see what they see when they walk into an exhibition.

“Instead of just putting drawings on the wall, we thought that since this exhibition is about the drawings that we collected over the last decade, people want to know the mechanics of how we collect,” she said.

Rather than just explaining the work, the labels provide information on the relevance of a piece to the Getty collection.

“Normally on the labels you talk about the work and its context, but in this exhibition we made a specific effort on the label to talk about why that particular work fits into this collection and why we decided to purchase it,” said Dr. Julian Brooks, associate curator in the Department of Drawings.

The exhibition also provides insight into the Getty Center’s larger future goals.

In a highly competitive museum world, every museum has to try to find its niches, and drawing is one of the areas the Getty Center has been focusing on over the last decade.

“No museum can just do everything. The world of art is just too vast. Even a museum as big and active as the Getty has to make some decisions of how to narrow it all down,” Hendrix said.

Featured in the exhibition are 16th and 17th century Italian and Northern European artists, as well as works by 18th century Venetian draftsmen and 18th and 19th century French artists. The time frame sets the stage for the exploration of drawing from its early beginnings as an influence on the Western art world to its full development in the late 19th century.

“In the world of drawing, the 1500s were really the beginning. We have, for example, a drawing of a tree by a 16th century Florentine monk. He was one of the first artists ever to draw nature,” Hendrix said. “This tree is really one of the earliest drawings ever to show an artist turning towards the natural world. It’s also the beginning of the Renaissance and the beginning of man’s eyes opening up to the world around him.”

While this drawing marks the beginning of the drawing era, the exhibit also provides pieces that mark the end of the drawing era included in the Getty Drawings collection, which spans until 1900.

The Getty’s most recent acquisition is a large turn-of-the-century drawing by artist Paul Gauguin. “Eve (The Nightmare)” depicts an Eve-like figure who covers her nude body as an expression of shame for her sexual activities. The piece points to a more modern era in drawing.

“This Gauguin is very disturbing and powerful,” Hendrix said. “It sort of marks the beginning of modern psychological exploration of psychological states.”

Brooks said that the Gauguin drawing is especially interesting because it shows the highly complex techniques used by artists.

“Gauguin worked on both sides of the sheet,” she said. “And so we placed it in the center of the room so that people can see how Gauguin worked on the sheets. We are trying to explain on the label how he worked.”

While visitors can learn about the Getty’s collection philosophy as well as the history of drawing, they can also engage with the many different drawing techniques and learn how these techniques have evolved over the centuries.

Hendrix said that early artists often used black, white or red chalk on blue dyed paper. Later artists had access to machine-made art supplies such as crayon pencils.

Due to their small size and sometimes “unfinished” nature, drawings are often less acknowledged than colorful paintings or large statues. But the Getty exhibition wants to show that drawing is the first step in the process of creating artwork.

“In the end, the painting is like the final performance, and the drawing is the work in progress or the rehearsal. And you can really see how they (the artists) arrive at their final work. You can see how they change their minds and how they work on the sheets. You can be sitting there right next to them,” Brooks said.

Drawing is a personal medium and can bring the visitor one step closer to the artists and their work.

“The drawing is where the artist really meets the subject. And if you look at them ““ the vibrant observation and the detail ““ these drawings, they nearly breathe,” Hendrix said. “It’s incredible. You meet them.”

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Clara Polley
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