Whether centuries old or the latest contemporary creations, works on paper are extremely light sensitive and can only be displayed in the galleries for short and infrequent periods of time before they must be returned to the safety of the dark, climate-controlled vault. Some of these works, however, also make brief appearances in the Prints and Drawings Study Room, frequently requested by professors for their classes to view as exemplars of specific techniques. This exhibition brings together nearly 100 of these highly popular contemporary works on paper, many of which have not been seen in our galleries in years (or ever), offering visitors an intriguing look at how this rich collection is used pedagogically.
While tools and artistic methods are often privileged over historical significance or connoisseurship in these educational sessions, the exhibition offers abundant examples by artists whose works on paper were celebrated in their time and continue to influence subsequent generations. Harlem Renaissance artist Romare Bearden’s iconic collage, The Return of Odysseus (Homage to Pintoricchio and Benin), makes a rare and welcome appearance, given that it is not often exhibited due to its fugitive materials—cut and pasted papers, graphite, and touches of black and gray wash. Also included are multiple works by Carroll Dunham, Martin Kippenberger, and Ed Ruscha, some being exhibited for the first time in Chicago. In addition, curators from the Ryerson Library have selected post–World War II comics publications by artists whose careers and aesthetic interests are related and sometimes influential to the other artists on view. Shown in this context are drawings informed by the conventions of graphic narratives, slapstick humor, and prescient social commentary.
Also on view are drawings by Chicago-based artists such as Julia Fish, who has a particular affinity for working on paper. Over the years, she has created drawings that not only extend her painting ideas but also exist as separate, self-contained bodies of work. Always focused on her immediate environment, Fish creates drawings based on memory and observations of the conditions surrounding her garden, as well as the properties of her house. She employs media specifically to evoke, rather than mimic, physicality, weight, touch, and time. Also a professor of art at the University of Illinois-Chicago, Fish is a frequent visitor to the Prints and Drawings Study Room herself and uses our diverse collection in part to teach students in the techniques demonstrated in this exhibition.