Sculptors' drawings -- and an overview of Israeli art

Drawing has for so long been considered a poor relation of painting and sculpture in the gallery world that the idea of an institution devoted exclusively to its furtherance seemed like an impossible dream until January 1977, when the Drawing Center was founded here.

Since the time the center has more than proved its worth. Its exhibitions have ranged from the intriguing 1979 "Musical Manuscripts," which documented the diverse methods composers used over the years to represent musical sounds, to the fascinating "Visionary Drawings of Architecture and Planning," which depicted 20th-century utopian and technological projections for the future.

But the Drawing Center is equally concerned with encouraging and showing the works of artists not yet represented by commercial galleries. To this end it has instituted a five-day-a-week viewing program, which encourages artists to come in with their work for professional reaction, as well as for advice on technical matters and guidance about where to show. And at least four group shows of new talent, selected from participants in the viewing program, are presented annually.

In the midst of all this activity, the center has somehow also managed to assemble another outstanding exhibition. "Sculptors' Drawings Over Six Centuries: 1400-1950" presents 140 sketches and drawings made by outstanding masters. Included are works by Donatello, Tintoretto, Bernini, Tiepolo, Rodin, Brancusi, and Picasso. It's a remarkable assemblage, and while a good half of the works on view will be of little interest except to specialists, the rest should intrigue and delight anyone even the slightest bit interested in the art of drawing.

According to Colin Eisler, the exhibition's guest curator, "Sculpture often starts on paper. Artists seldom go straight to wax, clay, plaster, or stone without setting down their initial thoughts on paper." Eisler adds that drawing offers a sense of creative freedom to sculptors who might be limited by confronting a mass of stone armed with just imagination.

The use of drawing as a probing device for potential sculpture is nowhere more evident than in the lovely 1630 study of a standing figure by Jacques Sarrazin, or in Augustus Saint-Gaudens's sketches for his Violet Sargent Relief of 1890. Another preliminary drawing, this time by Pierre Puget of two heads for a relief, goes one step further: What we see is a clear rendering for two details of a larger work obviously already designed. And then, to top it off, in Benvenuto Cellini's "Drawing of a Satyr for the Portee Fontainebleau" we are confronted by a rendering of a figure precise enough to serve as an actual working model.

Some of the most beautiful drawings extant are works in which one artist transcribed the work of another artist into pencil, ink, or chalk. Thus we have Rubens's magnificient study after Leonardo, and Durer's after Mantegna. And, in this, exhibition, there are two superb studies by Jacobo Tintoretto after Sansovino's "Atlas" and Michelangelo's "Samson Slaying the Philistines." For sheer energy made visible on paper, these drawings have few peers.

The works included by more recent artists are generally impressive. I was particularly taken with Constantin Brancusi's "View of the Artist's Studio" and his miraculously simple "Nude," Vladimir Tatlin's "Untitled," Julio Gonzalez's delightful "Woman Combing Her Hair," Henry Moore's extraordinary "Seated and Reclining Figures," and Marino Marini's "Horseman." And I was pleasantly surprised by Isamu Noguchi's loose and lively "Reclining Baby."

It's an excellent show presented by a very worthwhile institution, and will remain on view through June 20. The Drawing Center is at 137 Greene Street in SoHo. Artists of Israel: 1920-1980'

The fact that Israeli art has very much come into its own has remained something of a secret to Americans -- except for a few collectors and museums. For this reason alone the Jewish Museum's current exhibition here, "Artists of Israel: 1920-1980" -- the first comprehensive exhibition of modern Israeli art to be presented in the United States -- would be worth a visit. This is much more than a museum show dutifully assembled to fill a gap in our knowledge of contemporary art. It is also a pleasant opportunity to see some fair to excellent art that has managed to take European and American modernist sources and channel them into highly personal and imaginative directions.

This is particularly true of those artists who came to artistic maturity in the late 1910s and the '20s: Menachem Shemi, Marcel Janco, Israel Paldi, Mordecai Ardon, etc. Of these, Janco was one of the founders of the Dada movement, and Ardon studied at the Bauhaus with Klee, Kandinsky, and Feininger. The influence of all three of these Bauhaus teachers can be seen in Ardon's mural-size triptych "Missa Dura," but it's an influence that has been thoroughly assimilated and updated. This work is one of the outstanding pieces in the show.

This personalization of modernist influence continued into the later generations, and is still very much in evidence today. Buky Schwartz (now living in New York), Mosche Kupferman, Benni Efrat, and Aviva Uri (among others) are deeply involved with many of the latest ideas and attitudes in art and are producing works that would be (and are) as much at home in New York and Paris as in Jerusalem.

I was also very impressed by the drawings of Anna Ticho, which belong to no movement and have no axes to grind. Her large, sweeping 1969 landscape, "Jerusalem," is a gem of a drawing, one of the best studies of wild and rugged terrain I've seen in quite some time.

This interesting and rewarding exhibition of modern Israeli art will remain open to the public at the Jewish Museum through May 17.

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