Ballpoint Pen Drawing Since 1950, organized by Richard Klein, is part of a group of exhibitions dealing with the theme “Extreme Drawing” at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum. As some of you know, I grew up near (and kind of at) the Aldrich and it is a special place to me. As a non-collecting institution focused on showing art that is contemporary and often not yet visible in the art market, they make it worth the trip to suburban Connecticut.
The exhibitions aim is a familiar one, use a tool or technique to bond a group of unrelated artists. It’s a reasonable conceit and draws some good art together. Yet, the idea of the Ballpoint Pen as an expressive tool rather than just a tool among many available loses its luster by including some of the objects and artists in this show. Still there are many here who express the very ideal of the Ballpoint as a singular object with unique qualities. Alighiero Boetti’s Onomino is the ballpoint pen exhausted by assistants to create a woven field of blue. Each line abutting the next creates an undulating moonlight-on-ocean blue. Boetti makes something of this basic pen by running it dry and using all of its value. As the catalog for the show states, he truly is “putting the world in the world”.
Il Lee’s work on canvas and paper make a case for the ballpoint pen as it’s own expressive medium. These dense abstract works are the drawing and only the drawing. Pen doesn’t appear to be pen any longer but rather some fine-lined brush looping in and back on itself. I have been following Il Lee’s work for a few years and am incredibly pleased to see him included here. Lee makes the case for the whole show.
Dawn Clements creates intensely detailed drawings using the lowly pen. In many ways her work is like looking at old master etchings but on a massive scale and with nearly indecipherable notations. I imagine she does the crossword in pen. Her work at the Whitney Biennial in 2010 left an impression on me and I am happy to see it again here. Russell Crotty makes obsessive drawings split into hundreds of cells that document the mundane and the otherworldly. Jan Fabre covers photographic images completely in “Bic Blue” to create that hour between day and night.
There is no argument that the Bic or Biro is the cheap and ubiquitous tool with its own character, but not all of these artists embrace those values. Though the work by Kippenberger and Joanne Greenbaum are indicative of the ever present cheap pen, it doesn’t have a real dog in the fight. These are quickly made drawings made possible by the innovation, no more. Giacometti’s drawing on a journal cover is the same, even if it is a great object to visit with.
The overarching theme is a bit flimsy but the work holds up. There are 5 other shows running consecutively on this theme. I am not an unbiased opinion, but the Aldrich is always worth the trip.