Though the new show, titled The Projective Drawing, at the Austrian Cultural Forum New York is, as its name suggests, expressly about drawing, the exhibition expands beyond the two-dimensional medium to take advantage of the architectural setting of Raimund Abraham’s building.
Curated by Brett Littman, the exhibition features the work of 10 artists—five of whom are based in Austria. Littman’s thesis for the selection is anchored in architect and teacher Robin Evans' seminal 1995 book “The Projective Cast.” In his text, Evans argues that a drawing should represent the experience of architecture through sensory, psychological, physiological and cultural responses.
Littman first read Evans’ book years ago while working on a show about Austrian-American architect Frederick Kiesler for The Drawing Center, the institution that he directed until early February when he was appointed to lead the Noguchi Museum. When ACFNY approached him last year to curate a show, Littman seized on an unrealized wish to explore Evans’ text.
Through the art work he presents, Littman makes the case that drawings need to be understood in relation to myriad factors. Using contrasting lighting, incorporating a sound installation, allowing one piece to span two levels, and even using drawings as sculpture, Littman strives to show 10 artists (none architects) to exemplify his thesis.
Notably, Littman sees the show’s venue of the Austrian Cultural Forum New York (ACFNY) as instrumental to his argument: “This was the perfect location for this project.” Completed by architect Raimund Abraham in 2002, the ACFNY is an idiosyncratic 280-foot skyscraper, measuring only 25 feet wide in the heart of Midtown Manhattan. The 30,000-square-foot building is spread over 24 stories, broken into small floor plates, and navigable by a maze of stairways and elevators.
Littman’s show occupies the four-floor public gallery off the ground-floor lobby. On the highest level of the exhibit, three nearly square canvases sporting Sara Flores’ hand-drawing in vegetal dyes hang behind a solitary standing microphone into which visitors are invited to hum or sing. A cacophony of animal sounds, recorded in the Peruvian Amazon where Flores was born, responds echoing throughout the gallery. The mixed-medium installation represents “healing ayahuasca ceremonies performed by shamans.”
On floors below, Simona Koch’s 27-foot-long fractal drawing of her family’s genealogical history over more than 2,000 people spans the width of the room, while Judith Saupper’s nearly 23-foot long paper sculpture, The Great Noise [Das Grosse Rauschen], fills a portion of the exhibit’s lowest level. The molded paper rises and falls as if frozen in motion, and Saupper adorned it with 475 India ink drawings depicting a variety of landscapes and houses.
“To understand many of these works there needs to be a deeper context, beyond simple aesthetics,” Littman explained. A description of each piece is included in the exhibition program, which is made up of cards on stock paper, along with an image of each artists’ work. Reading it and taking in the sights and sounds of the show while traversing Abraham’s gallery, demands total immersion, which is Littman’s intention and the reason the ACFNY was such a vital part of the show.
“If I would have done this at The Drawing Center, it would have lacked the architectural experience of walking through this building,” he said. “I would have had to build architecture that would have been able to express this idea.”
It would have been interesting to hear Abraham’s take on Littman’s use of his building as a vehicle for drawings that represent larger-than-life concepts. The curator believes the architect, who died in 2010, would have been in agreement; “I think that Abraham would have thought that this building was projective in the way that Evans thought architecture could be projective,” says Littman.
The Projective Drawing runs through May 13, 2018 at the Austrian Cultural Forum New York.