If you catch yourself in an exhibition suddenly asking urgent questions that don’t usually go through your head, then she’s done something right. At the Center for Contemporary Art, ZAK for short, these are currently questions like: What is that actually, a drawing?
In view of the diversity of the medium, as demonstrated in the show Beyond the Drawing, one would like to answer as generally as possible: Something that happens between the head, eye, hand and the sheet of paper lying in front of the artist. This sheet of paper has long been a bright white computer screen.
cutting and cross section
But at the end of the show in the Zitadelle Spandau you not only ask questions, you are also amazed: so many different approaches to the subject of drawing, all by artists from Berlin. But no matter how extensive the excerpt shown in the ZAK is, it remains just that: an excerpt. One who was unrestrainedly subjectively selected by two artists. Matthias Beckmann and Katja Pudor, who are represented by works themselves, have been commissioned by the gallery to put together a cross-section: How do artists currently interpret and use the medium of drawing?
As a municipal gallery, the ZAK does not want to sell the works. Rather, it is about creating an awareness of how diverse drawing can be and how permeable the outer areas of the medium are. The curators knowingly and with relish break through the boundaries in which one would like to intuitively enclose the term. In fact, in each of the spacious rooms one is confronted with works that one would not have expected in a drawing exhibition. So another question that Beckmann and Pudor resolutely conjure up becomes a stubborn companion: “Is that still a drawing?”
They bring together the perspectives of several generations: some of the more than 40 exhibitors are in their late thirties, others in their early seventies, and the majority of the works are more recent. Most are from the past two or three years. They illustrate how different the means are with which the hands of the artists create a drawing: from pencil to ballpoint pen, brush and charcoal to the cursor on the screen.
In her work “Slicing Time” (2016), Ulrike Mohr completely abstracts the relationship between drawing instruments and paper. A burned beech branch, sawed into slices, hangs black in the room. Like a wind chime, the discs gently dance in the breeze. Next to it on the floor: a rectangular cluster of white chalk stones arranged in the shape of a sheet of paper. Charcoal, chalk, paper – the basic components of the medium are traced back to their archaic core.
But also, well, more “familiar” graphic approaches can be found. Beckmann’s works from the Friedrichwerder Church, for example. 20 small-format works drawn in pencil on paper by the artist and co-curator of the 2021 show on site, in the church not far from the Humboldt Forum. The lines are safe and purposeful, and Beckmann does not make any subsequent corrections. But he also allows the lines a certain dance-like freedom. They testify less to architectural accuracy than to the desire to create a feeling for the observed space with all its overlays and reflections.
The dramaturgy of the show seems arbitrary. Beckmann and Pudor do not want to deliver a linear narrative. Instead, they juxtapose the various approaches so that interactions arise between them, which one suddenly encounters when visiting. Peter Hock uses the charcoal emblematically presented by Ulrike Mohr – in his case rice charcoal – to create structures on paper that seem to literally stand out from the background.
His 2020 work “Stoff”, measuring 2.4 meters by 1.5 meters, appears organic, almost like a close-up of sea anemones, although it is actually inspired by a carpet. Hock’s rice charcoal works are so sensitive to touch that they were only unrolled directly on the wall in the ZAK. The gallery has drawn a line on the floor in front of them, this time not an act of drawing, rather one intended to protect the works from encroaching visitors.
Other exhibited pieces were created entirely in the gallery. At the opening, Katja Pudor performed together with Manfred Peckl on huge sheets of paper laid out on the floor. With equally powerful brushes and ink, they attacked the tracks, painted them, crumpled them loudly and literally wrestled with them. What remains are oversized balls of paper, which are still lying on the floor among the other exhibits.
And this is supposed to be a drawing? That’s where the doubt comes in again. But it is thanks to Beckmann and Pudor that this question is asked less with a frown than with a smile on the lips.