By: Michelle Jubin
The opening last night for the two spring shows at The Drawing Center was packed, and rightly so. Initially, I went to review the show in the main space dedicated to Iannis Xenakis (Greek, 1922 – 2001), intrigued by the promise of an artist with such a rich history. The condensed biography reads like an ode to the mythical mid-twentieth-century Modern Man: Xenakis was a member of the resistance in Greece during WWII, fled to Paris, and then worked alongside Le Corbusier as a structural engineer for over a decade whilst simultaneously reinventing himself as a serious, well-respected, and renowned avant-garde composer and artist. The Drawing Center has represented this trajectory with a variety of media, including engineering notes, books, vinyl record covers, photographs, video and photographs of his multimedia installations (called polytopes, meaning “many” and “places” in Greek), and - of course - drawings, beautiful drawings.
The show begins with an opened spiral-bound notebook from 1959 filled with intense, repetitive lines and music notations, rendering the keys of a piano into vivid colors that are then scored into different compositions on the page. Across the room, his drawings for Francoise Choay’s 1964 text Urbanism, Utopia and Reality suggest a direct link to Le Corbusier (notably the unrealized Le Plan Voisin of 1925, or Corbu’s Unite D’Habitation in Marseilles completed in 1952). Xenakis’ drawings for Cosmic City illustrate an unrealized urban plan for five million inhabitants, where wide-open green space is punctuated by fantastical, organic towers spiraling into the sky, bringing the dwellers “into the proximity of the stars.”
Courtesy Iannis Xenakis Archives, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris
The back walls of the gallery space are dedicated to multimedia, site-specific architectonic pieces created between 1967 and 1978, proving that Xenakis was orchestrating grand light-and-sound shows well before contemporary ringmasters such as Cai Guo Qiang. The preliminary drawings for Terretektorh (1965-6) offer camp chairs to an audience so that they might move around the performance of eighty-eight instrumentalists as the piece unfolds. Persepolis (1971) reads like a graphite and paper version of a contemporary Protools computer screen, and the photographic record of these works highlights Xenakis’ simultaneous engagement with the verbal, topographical, and mathematical in his work.
Stepping across the road to The Drawing Center’s secondary space at 40 Wooster Street, I was excited to find the curator of the show, Nina Katchadourian, starting a brief exhibition walkthrough with the three artists featured in the group show “Selections Spring 2010: Sea Marks”, Agnes Barley, Jerome Marshak, and Peter Matthews. This is where the Drawing Center truly bridges the gap between gallery (beautifully hung, sparse, succinct shows) and museum (interpretive materials, solid public programs and audio guides). Barley offers Lygia Clark-esque geometric deconstructions of wave patterns along one wall; Matthews, a triptych of oblong panels depicting the up to eleven hour stretches that the artist spent drawing in the sea while balancing on his surfboard. Marshak’s pared down line and dot drawings are made using quarter-inch thick plexiglass templates inspired by the surrounds of his studio on the coast of an island in North Puget Sound, Washington. Katchadourian connected the loose theme of the sea these artists incorporate in their work to Xenakis’ passion for the ocean and kayaking in Corsica. The impulse to record or notate the lyrically abstract qualities of water and music, and the intimate, personal methods each artist had developed to do so also serves as a connecting thread between all four bodies of work. Matthews’ mixture of “intentional and unintentional” marks reads like a visual rendition of the shipping forecast, difficult to decipher and yet strangely hypnotic. Barley’s use of repetition and block color served as a metaphorical search for place in the momentary and fleeting curl of a wave. Jerome Marshak’s work was, for me, the most powerful in this group show, in part due to the eloquence with which the artist talked about his work.
Photo by Cary Whittier. Courtesy the artist.
Photo by Derek Johnson. Courtesy the artist
All three artists spoke of light as an integral part of their process, whether reflected by the water, or admired in the work of Turner or the Impressionists. Marshak ended the discussion talking about light as a subset of weather (reminiscent of Roni Horn, or land artists such as Andy Goldsworthy). He described watching the weather from his studio through windows shrouded in muslin curtains and silhouetted by the heroic mountain ranges that frame the Pacific Ocean near his home. His quiet passion, curiosity and respect for natural forces greater than him is poignant in light of recent seismic shifts over the last decade in New Orleans, Southeast Asia, China and, most recently, Haiti. Summing up his interest in place, in the very specific sea marks outside his studio windows, he remarked dryly about artists of the last two centuries: ‘a lot of them were drawn to Southern France … I think my light [in Puget Sound] is just as good.’ Mr. Marshak, I concur. Two excellent shows, well worth seeing.
Iannis Xenakis: Composer, Visionary, Architect runs through April 8th
Selections Spring 2010: Sea Marks runs through April 15th
The Drawing Center
35 Wooster Street
Take the A, C, E, J, M, N,R,Q,W, Z, 1 or 6 trains go to Canal
Gallery Hours: W 12 – 6pm; Thurs 12 – 8pm; F – Sun 12 – 6pm