Today is the last day of the show Drawn to Detail, at the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln Massachusetts. From their description of the show:
Drawn to Detail features a variety of contemporary drawings with a very particular focus. This exhibition displays the work of 26 American artists who explore extreme attention to detail, obsessive mark-making, repetition, patterning, laborious process, all-over intricate design, and horror vacui (fear of empty space). These artists draw with extreme attention to detail as a reaction to today’s hectic lifestyle and technological advancements, and also because of their desire to make sense of the changing world around them. In addition to traditional mediums of graphite, charcoal, and pen and ink, these artists also work with materials such as string, tape and smoke, and practices adopted from the world of craft.
In today’s fast-paced, digital world, we rarely have time for detail. Attention deficit disorders prevail, while advertisers feed on our need to multitask and to find timesaving shortcuts wherever we can. The artists in this exhibition add detail, work with a detailed visual vocabulary, or even detail the passage of time by listing and recording the particulars of events. They can render an abstraction or a recognizable image, sometimes so small that the viewer needs a magnifying glass to decipher it.
Like most group shows (IMHO), the experience felt uneven. Some of the work is stunning. Some is mundane and so optically challenging that I had to step out of the exhibit hall a few times to clear my head. Because the work has by definition a decided tediousness associated with its process, I am constantly juggling with what I have referred to previously as the “termite art” factor: Is it the infinite mark making that amazes us, or the overall result? Is the kind of tedious mark making that a 9th century monk living in isolation might spend his life doing as relevant in our streamlined modern age with its numerous options for technical facility? My response to some of the work was yes. Others, not so much.
It was certainly a high point to see the work of Slow Painter Cynthia Lin in the flesh (you can see more images by her on my art blog, Slow Painters). These macroscopically-rendered drawings of flesh and hair are so well done, almost unnervingly so. I found myself falling into the depth of texture she creates in this flea’s view of the human body. She delivers up a size warp, but does so with so much craft.
I was also enchanted by Andrea Sulzer’s enormous and extremely painterly ink drawings. They are referential and yet not, familiar and yet strange, interior and yet expansive. Once again the scale of the works—they fill a wall—make viewing feel adventuresome.
Already a fan of Marco Maggi’s delicate tracings of mythical cities and landscapes, I was moved when I read the following quote by him on the wall. It is so in line with my vision for Slow Muse, and it represents an aesthetic sensibility that continues to be missing from mainstream art reportage:
When I understand, I write; when I don’t understand, I draw. When we don’t understand, we doubt and reduce the speed of our decision-making. We become subtle and cautious. Every time you make a mark, all your faculties must operate. We all feel a bit offside at the start of the twenty-first century. The only hope available is unambitious and slow: hypo-hope. Therefore, I practice slow art to exchange ideology for delicacy, to swap spectacle for intimacy.
That is the best artist statement I’ve ever read.