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Graphite, in all its forms, at the IMA

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Judith Braun, seen here at a 2010 show, creates her "fingerings" by applying powdered graphite to a white vinyl surface.
  • Judith Braun, seen here at a 2010 show, creates her "fingerings" by applying powdered graphite to a white vinyl surface.

Carl Andre, Karl Haendel, Kim Jones, Robert Longo and Geof Oppenheimer are among the artists included in Graphite, an exhibition exploring recent, innovative use of graphite in sculptures, drawings and installations.

Pieces will include Andre's "Graphite Sum of Numbers," comprised of 164 units of machined graphite arranged in a geometric progression on the gallery's floor; Jones's "War Drawing," created for the exhibition and featuring a diagram of drawn graphite x's vs. o's, with erasures marking where an "x" took down an "o," and vice versa; and selections from Longo's Heritage series, a collection of graphite on paper reproductions of iconic artworks.

Graphite opens Dec. 6 with a free reception from 6-9 p.m. featuring hip-hop MCs Mr. Kinetik, Tony Styxx and aLLEN IMAGERY. We caught up yesterday with IMA Associate Curator of Contemporary Art Sarah Urist Green, who curated Graphite and wrote an essay about the use of graphite in art since the 1960s for the exhibition's digital catalog, which will be released in January.

Carl Andre, "Graphite Cube Sum of All Numbers," seen at a 2006 show in London.
  • Carl Andre, "Graphite Cube Sum of All Numbers," seen at a 2006 show in London.

NUVO: How'd you happen upon the idea of mounting the "first major museum exhibition to explore graphite as a medium in work beyond drawings," as your press release puts it?

Sarah Green: I saw more and more artists using the material in unexpected and new ways. My thinking behind the exhibition was it was a way to show this very traditional and common material but used in novel, unusual, inventive ways.

NUVO: And there are some drawings, but also plenty of installations...

Green: Installations, sculpture; machined graphite, cast graphite, liquid graphite; powdered graphite pushed through a silkscreen. Even the drawings that are included are conceptually pushing drawing in a new direction. Even if they're using graphite in an expected way, the content is pushing in a new direction.

Several artists have been working here to create new work. Kim Jones, a New York artist, is creating this sort of elaborate battlefield drawing that depicts the movement of two armies - one army of x's and one army of dots - who move this through fictional space. He started with a drawing that was pinned to the wall, and he's been expanding it for the last week and a half on to the surrounding walls.

We've commissioned Karl Haendel to create a new arrangement of his work, remixing his drawings into installations. Judith Braun is creating what she calls a "fingering," which is a wall drawing where she covers the walls in layers of vinyl and then she dips her fingers in powdered graphite to create marks on the wall.

NUVO: What have you learned about graphite and the way it's been used over time?

Green: What I've found is that it's a shifty material. It's literally slippery and is used as a lubricant and industrial applications, and it's also figuratively slippery and can be used in vastly different ways. The artist Joyce Hinterding, in the show, harnesses the conductive properties of graphite. She created a graphite drawing and then connected it to a circuit. You as a visitor are encouraged to touch the drawing, and when you do it interrupts the sound field and creates noise.

Other artists are thinking about graphite because it's an allotrope of carbon. So they're using it conceptually to consider what graphite means when you include it in a sculpture. There's one piece by Geof Oppenheimer that's a cast graphite sculpture next to a neon sign. Graphite is a near black body absorber of energy and light, so in this instance, it's functioning as kind of the opposite of light.

NUVO: And, in general, what's the state of the contemporary art side of things at the IMA following the recent turnover in leadership? The department has been very ambitious over the past few years, between 100 Acres and the Venice Biennale.

Green: The contemporary curatorial staff is all here - everyone who made those past projects. We really loved working with Max Anderson, and are enjoying getting to know Charles [Venable, the museum's new CEO]. The framework for all those projects is here: We have 100 Acres and wonderful exhibition spaces and lots of plans. From my perspective very little has changed.

Joyce Hinterding, "Aura," at a 2009 show in Sydney. In the piece, Hinterding exploits graphite's conductive properties by connecting her drawings to an electric circuit.
  • Joyce Hinterding, "Aura," at a 2009 show in Sydney. In the piece, Hinterding exploits graphite's conductive properties by connecting her drawings to an electric circuit.

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