'Drawings For the New Century' at the MIA

Siah Armajani: Mississippi Delta

Siah Armajani: Mississippi Delta

The Department of Prints and Drawings at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) was established in 1916 when founding trustee Herschel V. Jones donated a collection of 5,000 prints. Today, that number is at about 42,000 original works of art. The department owns numerous notable old master prints, as well as drawings from many of the world's most prominent artists, ranging from 14th century to today.  

 According to MIA's website, the department has in recent years expanded its collection of contemporary drawings by both established an emerging artists. In "Drawings for the New Century," which runs through September 11 in Gallery 263, 16 drawings created in the last century are displayed, ranging in style and scope.  
Between the epic work of Iranian-American artist Siah Armajani, to the intimate exploration of identity by Mequitta Ahuja, to the fantastical work of Nicola Hicks, the style and content of the collection is notably diverse. Though all of the works fall under the medium of drawing, the exhibit acts as a kind of microcosm for all the different directions contemporary art has taken in recent years. Who knows how art critics will describe the pieces created in our time, but in viewing the work in this collection, it seems they may have a hard time nailing it down, other than to say there was an eclectic mix.  

The most breathtaking piece in "Drawings for a New Century" is a color pencil triptych on Mylar by Siah Armajani, made in response to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Titled Mississippi Delta, the piece was made in 2005-2006 and depicts the loss and hopelessness surrounding that disaster. It shows upside-down cars, houses up to the roof with water, a man in a long coat and hat looking as if he is about to jump to his death, and other figures and objects indicating the tragedy of the  situation. At the same time, there are horizontal and vertical lines framing the nightmarish and all-encompassing presence of the water, with orange squares sprinkled throughout.  

Where Siah Armajani's piece is monumental in scope, Mequitta Ahuja's Tress IV, made with waxy chalk on paper, is intimately personal though it resonates deeply into political and cultural spheres. The piece is a tangle of long dreadlocks, with the subject's face looking serenely upwards toward the top of the paper. The dreadlocks weave in and out of each other, becoming a kind of landscape rich in depth and detail. The work is an example of how a simple drawing of hair can be an entry point into a person's emotional life, and at the same time call to question perceptions taken for granted about how the viewer "reads" and draws conclusions about who this person is.  

Other notable works in the exhibit include another triptych by Cynthia Lin made with graphite and charcoal depicting an extreme close up of a human mouth, Nicola Hicks's Egyptian goddess-like self portrait Cat Woman, and Stacey Davidson's macabre image of a woman and creepy doll called Sometimes a Tender Thing is Just Out of Sight. There's also Roman Verostko's wonderful pen and ink algorithmic drawing with calligraphic brush strokes, and Frank Sander's Human Nature Day 21, a meditative and bleak self portrait of a figure standing on a stool, with the figure made up of ferocious scribbles.  
"Drawings for the New Century" is definitely worth checking out.  It runs through September 11 in Gallery 263 of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.