Drawing Biennial 2017 offers insights into how artists contend with a world in rapid and disorienting flux. A snapshot of contemporary drawing practices, the exhibition includes more than 200 new and recent works on paper by leading international artists of different generations. Culminating in an online auction in the exhibition’s two final weeks, individual works are available from £250. Proceeds from the auction support the Drawing Room’s ongoing programme. Invited by Mary Doyle, Kate Macfarlane and Katharine Stout (Directors, Drawing Room) with nominations from leading international experts, all the drawings are on A4 supports, with each piece given equal prominence in the exhibition.
Contributors include Jonathan Allen, ruby onyinyechi amanze, Art & Language, Ed Atkins, Marc Bauer, Kasper Bosmans, Koen van den Broek, James Capper, Nidhal Chamekh, Milano Chow, Steven Claydon, Ronald Cornelissen, Angela de la Cruz, Richard Deacon, Nicolas Desayes, Mark Dion, Marcel van Eeden, Ed Fornieles, Richard Forster, Margarita Gluzberg, Antony Gormley, Lubaina Himid, Karl Holmqvist, Donna Huddleston, Rachel Howard, Chantal Joffe, Peter Jones, Michael Landy, Brit Meyer, Julian Opie, Cornelia Parker, Eddie Peake, Simon Periton, Grayson Perry, Amalia Pica, Yelena Popova, Matt Saunders, Massinissa Selmani, John Smith, Emma Talbot, Suzanne Treister, Nicola Tyson, Frances Upritchard, Marcus Vater, Julie Verhoeven, Mark Wallinger, Claudia Wieser and Rose Wylie.
A number of younger artists in the exhibition explore motifs of mediated experience, the performance of self on social media, or the chance encounters of online life. Ed Atkins, Ed Fornieles, Eddie Peake and Yu-Chen Wang have developed diverse and sophisticated practices spanning video art, events and installations. Drawing offers these artists a rapidity of response to contemporary concerns that are not always achievable in large-scale projects and costly production processes. Others use drawing as a low-tech riposte to high-tech false-promises: Suzanne Treister’s Death of the Internet (2016), for example, features the titular words written out in tombstone type. At the same time, genuine affection for media celebrities continues to be a draw, with portrait-style works such as Chantal Joffe’s Patti Smith (2016), and Matt Saunders’ photo drawing of the late, great, Leonard Cohen.
Other artists explore the politics of everyday graphic design, texts and slogans. Amalia Pica’s Colour In Paperwork #1 (2016) is composed of office-stamps with the word ‘PAID’ arranged into cloudlike shapes, suggesting a world of precarious labour contained within a work of diaphanous and seductive forms. Jonathan Allen’s Twenty- first century silks (Faith) (2016) features the word ‘FAITH’, printed on a magician’s silk handkerchief and held aloft, perhaps suggesting the force and evasiveness of populist political sloganeering today. Nidhal Chamekh’s Le Battement des Ailes No. V (The Beat of the Wings), (2016) draws on archival memories of political struggle in the artist’s home country of Tunisia to articulate contemporary concerns with resistance and memory. The exhibition reflects a globalised world, including an international selection: Chamekh is from Tunisia and lives in Paris; ruby onyinyechi amanze is Nigerian-born and New York-based; Yu Chen Wang is from Taiwan and London-based; and Massinissa Selmani is from Algeria, and is now based in France.
Humour and jocularity is in abundance, and is often shot through with darkness and self-deprecation. Michael Landy’s Bin Landy (2016) features a cartoonish artist duo peering into a dustbin, from which protrude two legs, and the comment “Goodness – you’re right, it’s Michael Landy”. For those who know Landy’s work, there is a clear reference to the artist’s longstanding interest in destruction and creative failure in his installation and performance works since the 1990s. John Smith’s Funny Old World (2016) features a series of Christmas cracker jokes, which have been torn in half and the questions and answers mismatched to absurdist effect. At the centre of the drawing is a miscued joke that features Donald Trump as the punchline.
Drawing Biennial 2017 offers a chance to see how artists who are known for work in media such as video, installation, performance or painting, translate their concerns into the medium of drawing. The exhibition includes rarely seen works on paper by moving image artists such as John Smith and Ed Atkins, among others. Artists whose drawing practices are better known also participate. These include Richard Deacon and Antony Gormley, whose drawings complement their sculptural work; while Richard Forster and David Haines have drawing as their principal practice. The artists here all produce drawing as finished art works. Rather than using drawing as a preparatory sketch, they communicate a confidence in the medium as an end in itself. Artists continue to push the boundaries of mark-making in different media, from digital prints to graphite on paper, playing with drawing’s capacities for sensuality and wit, abstraction and figuration, clarity and confusion.