Quietly, consistently, the curators of MOMA’s smaller departments, like the Department of Drawings, have been bringing us some of the freshest, most idiosyncratic, downright sexiest shows at the museum. Have you noticed? Has MOMA? It’s probably a good thing if they don’t garner too much attention: Let the bigger guns get all the glory—and take all the heat—of institutional pressure. At least for now, they’re free to make the sort of creative choices we crave.
This smart little offering of Minimalist drawings, “Lines, Grids, Stains, Words,” is curated by Christian Rattemeyer (late of Artists Space). He’s scarcely been at the museum two months, and already he’s making his mark, mixing and matching periods and makers with impunity and inspiration. Skip the show’s rather dull opening wall text: It will tell you that Minimalist drawings (as opposed to Minimalist sculptures) are way more physical, human, and gestural than you’d expect. The works that follow, however, illustrate the point far better.
Joel Shapiro makes an uneven grid out of dot-like fingerprints. Sol LeWitt slathers black over a trapezoidal shape already daubed with bright colors; Gary Hume, using a sort of inverse process, covers over the black-and-white pages of The New York Times with painted geometric shapes of color. Rattemeyer hangs them next to each other, in marvelous counterpoint. Marcel Broodthaers fills two pages with nothing more than his handwritten initials, “M.B.”—a reminder of both the simple beauty of script and the essential narcissism of all art. And, best of all, Mel Bochner gives us Mental Exercise: Estimating a Corner to Corner Diagonal, a deceptively simple, two-line drawing. In it, he first draws freehand (to the best of his ability) a straight line from one end of a piece of paper to the other; then he makes the same line in pencil with the aid of a T-square. As you can guess, that freehand line isn’t perfect. You see in it the “wobble” of a real hand, and behind that the very human ambitions of a guy attempting perfection and not attaining it.
Bochner gets it “wrong.” And that’s sort of thrilling.