SANTA FE, N.M. — In large part because an 86-year-old English painter felt art basics were being neglected, a select collection of drawings through the ages has come from across the ocean to the New Mexico Museum of Art.
“Lines of Thought: Drawing from Michelangelo to Now: from the British Museum” opens Saturday with 70 works curated from 50,000 drawings from the London museum’s Prints and Drawings collection, representing just a tiny part of the museum’s eight million cultural and artistic objects.
This is a rare chance for museumgoers as the works are so light sensitive that the storied museum allows them out only every 10 years.
The foundation of octogenarian British artist Bridget Riley, famed as an early exponent of Op Art – known for its use of optical illusions – is a driving force behind the touring exhibition, said Mary Kershaw, director of the New Mexico Museum of Art.
Riley’s “feeling was that when she was in art school, drawing was not obligatory anymore and it was not being highly regarded, and she feels pretty strongly that it is an important part of artistic practice, Kershaw said.
The show is part of “The Art of the Draw,” a collaboration among art institutions in Santa Fe over the summer. Also included are the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum’s display of its namesake artist’s drawings; the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts’ exhibition “Action Abstraction Redefined”; and the Santa Fe Desert Chorale’s 2017 Summer Festival Season, with a score dedicated to Pablo Picasso, who has work included in “Lines of Thought.”
Kershaw established a connection with the British Museum when “Renaissance to Goya: Prints and Drawings from Spain” came to Santa Fe in 2013-14. She also worked in English museums for more than 25 years.
Isabel Seligman, the “Lines of Thought” curator with the British Museum, said in an email interview that Kershaw felt the success of the exhibition of Spanish works showed there was an audience in Santa Fe “for a further exhibition of high-quality old master, modern and contemporary drawings, especially one developed to appeal to a community of practicing artists.”
Drawing is elbowing its way back to significance in today’s digital world, she said.
“From engineering and design through to architecture and fine art, drawing is at the heart of visual communication,” Seligman wrote. “It is currently enjoying a resurgence in contemporary art: As we live in an increasingly digital and screen-based world, there is a concomitant fascination with the embodied, material traces of the hand, and with the new possibilities of drawing for a generation of digital natives.”
Seligman wrote about how the “Lines of Thought” project began in an article she wrote entitled “Drawing Near to the Divine.”
“What does an idea look like before it is labored over, crafted, and shaped into a finished piece?” she asked in the article.
“The answer, for artists, is usually a drawing. Drawing provides a means of expression unhindered by materials or labor – the opportunity to act and communicate almost at the speed of thought. Drawings thus offer privileged insights into an artist’s mind at the moment of creation.
“This is something that Bridget Riley realized when she was first brought to draw in the British Museum Study Room as a student, which was a life-changing experience for her,” Seligman wrote. “It was for precisely this reason that she wanted to support bringing students into the British Museum’s study room, and to allow us to make some of our highest quality drawings more widely available.”
Drawings by Riley, Albrecht Dürer, Piet Mondrian, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Franz Kline, Rachel Whiteread, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo are included in the exhibition.
“Lines of Thought” started with workshops at the British Museum for students and then toured to three museums in the U.K. Santa Fe’s is the first of only two U.S. museums hosting the exhibition, with the other in Providence, R.I.
Director Kershaw had students and the artistic heart of the community in mind when she worked to bring the exhibition here.
“Santa Fe and much of New Mexico has a huge population of working artists and art students, and this exhibition is as much as anything about the artistic process and the key audience … was the thousands of people who work in art or who are studying art so we will have a series of programs,” Kershaw said, “and we will certainly encourage visits by students.”
Amy Summa, arts education coordinator for Santa Fe Public Schools, lamented that the exhibition was over the summer, but said she wants to get the word out to art students and teachers. “Most of our art teachers start out with sketch books,” Summa said. “Drawing is an important part of our curriculum.”
The exhibition will be very hands-on. There’s an opening day lecture with Seligman and Hugo Chapman, also from the British Museum, on drawing in the artistic process, and a series of salon demonstrations in June, July and August in which visitors can engage in drawing with local artists.
There also will be an “artists draw,” which is “a bit of fun really with a serious point,” with two local artists drawing one another with an audience watching, Kershaw said.
“We are encouraging a drop-in and draw, so that people can come in and they can do their own drawing in the gallery, and we’ve established a drawing center, which will be an area where people can sit down,” she said.
“There will be small (wooden figure) models, there will be drawing materials, drawing implements … and as many times as they visit, they can use that drawing center.”