But let's talk some more about constellations, about which I know very little except that I love to see stars twinkling above me on a dark night. Even though I don't know Cancer from Orion, Ursa Major from Ursa Minor, I respond viscerally to the night sky. Maybe you don't know or care whether drawing is an autographic or diagrammatic activity, "whether characterized as `a process of revelation' or as `unmediated thought.'" Maybe you don't know much about Latin America in the Sixties and Seventies, and how the political situation in the Southern Hemisphere may have contributed to the artists' choice of medium as well as their message. No matter. It is still easy to find your way through this exhibition. If you care to read about a specific artist and his or her intent, there is plenty of information on the gallery walls. This is, after all, a university-based exhibition which aims to educate as well as to break new scholarly ground. If you're ready for full immersion into the "Boom" years of Latin American drawing, the impressive catalogue, which accompanies the exhibition, combines essays by Ramirez, Wolfe (listed as Edith A. Gibson), Paulo Herkenhoff, Beverly Adams, and others. Director Jessie Otto Hite's preface includes the usual assortment of thank-yous including one to scholar/collector and UT benefactor Barbara Duncan, whose 1976 exhibition "Lines of Vision," organized for UT, began the inquiry into contemporary drawing in Latin America. Hite also cites Dr. Ramirez's lengthy list of credentials as an internationally recognized curator, recommended reading for those who don't fully appreciate the Huntington's strength in the area of Latin American art.
I was equally intrigued by a particular ink-on-paper drawing by Gego (Gertrude Goldschmidt). "Parallel lines break, bend and unravel, impervious to Euclidean geometry," reads the catalogue. The description is as good as any for a drawing which, given the subject (or absence of subject), should appear stiff and formal. And yet it undulates, breaking into soft gray triangles. Another work by Gego is a construction suspended near a wall so that the piece actually becomes two drawings, one made of wire and another created by the shadows cast on the wall. A drawing and its echo.
Some of the works in the exhibition are calligraphic in nature. Anna Maria Maiolino's Drop Lines features what appears to be a secret alphabet that begs to be decoded. (Her handmade books are wonderful as well, all the more extraordinary because visitors can touch!) Leon Ferrari, whose drawings resemble pages of tangled thread, says of his work, "I draw silent handwritten words, which tell things, with lines that recall voices. And I write drawings that recite memories that words cannot say." Juan Calzadilla employs nervous drawings of tiny naked figures, which he arranges as if they were words, lettered across (or up and down) the page. He says, "I think of drawing as if it were visual writing, composed of legible images in which, plastically speaking, sign and sense are the same." I was struck by the universality of this visual, squiggly "language." Midway through the first floor galleries, I realized how clearly the work spoke to me, although conversation with the artists themselves might be impossible, because I understand very little Spanish. This grouping of art functions as international language. I tested the theory with a friend who said she had anticipated a certain "Latin approach" - bright colors, imagery that was overtly political and most probably gruesome - which would separate her emotionally from the work. Instead, she said on her second visit to the galleries, she had been intrigued by the way she felt included rather than excluded.
To help the visitor sort through this universe of drawings by 46 established artists from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela, Dr. Ramirez and Ms. Wolfe have assigned words to mark certain groupings. These words are "based on qualities that are either intrinsic to the drawing medium or inextricably tied to what the represented artists conceived as its new function." If you are confused, relax. So was I. At first, I accepted these guide words - Ramirez refers to them in her essay as "luminous points" - simply as graphic signifiers that a transition in imagery was about to take place as I moved through the galleries. To tell the truth, this was more distracting than helpful. But soon I came to understand that, like the word "constellation," these additional clues were mine to attend as I saw fit. "Mediation," for instance, is (again, according to Ramirez) meant to indicate drawings in which "the stroke of the artist is subordinated to the visual effects of mass media and technology." Antonio Dias' comic book-style panels about torture fall into this section. But I automatically assumed another definition for mediation, one that had to do with bringing about reconciliation or compromise between two parties. I grimaced at the absurd, lopsided "mediation" taking place between torturer and victim. It is the curators' intent, by using these guide words, to encourage yet another level of investigation of this hugely intriguing exhibit. Whether you opt for a more scholarly or gut-level approach to the work, don't pass up the opportunity to see an exhibition heralded by The New York Times last May as one that affirms art's potential to "affect the ways lives are lived and the world is shaped."
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