Paul Klee once said that drawing was “taking a line for walk.” In the decades since, that line has not just walked—it’s gone rogue. Drawings have escaped their erstwhile parameters. Definitions have gotten sloppy, like a barfly at last call. Just what is a drawing, especially an architectural drawing, when longstanding fights—hand v. mechanical, digital v. analogue—are fast becoming archaic concerns?
The Drawing Show, on view at the A+D Architecture and Design Museum in Los Angeles through January 8, doesn’t exactly offer any clarity. Instead, the exhibition, curated by A+D director Dora Epstein Jones and Deborah Garcia, offers a selection of two-dimensional works by many emerging and a few firmly established practitioners. Freed from the constraints of technique, drawing here includes digital plots, screen prints, collage, photographic reproduction, and even video. Missing are the conventions of what a layperson might understand as architectural drawing: no beaux-arts gauche elevations, no construction documents, no developer renderings, and certainly no overt representations of buildings.
New on the job (arriving this summer), Epstein Jones put the exhibition together in just a few weeks. In her introductory text she writes that this wide range of designers use drawing as a “creative outlet for expression, and as an exploratory tool for discovering new forms of composition, shadow, line, fill, geometry, and color.”
Some of that experimentation is dependent on late twentieth-century works that are now a familiar part of the architectural cannon—such as Thom Mayne’s 5th of June Series from 1989, which dominates one wall of the gallery. Created with printmakers Astrid Van Veen and John Nichols, the serigraphs demonstrate the architect’s signature layering of image, constructed drawing, and notations in order to provoke secondary spatial readings. The panels represent, in the architect’s words, strategies that “connect social, economic, and tectonic forces to a generative design process.” He takes the very postmodern maneuver of using outside forces to reinforce interior meanings.
The weakest pieces in The Drawing Show poach from postmodernism’s toolbox, aping the styles of Aldo Rossi or Charles Moore without challenging them within a contemporary context.
Other works track a short history of the radical influence of Morphosis, Neil Denari, and Lebbeus Woods. Bryan Cantley’s meticulous pen and ink drawings, for instance, imply architectural space, but his text shows a furious resolve to defy resolution into a singular building representation. Mike Nesbit, an artist who is also a project designer at Morphosis, flat out disregards representation. In Phlatness 11and Phlatness 15 he obscures the linework almost entirely under layers of black ink. These “swipes,” a continuation of a practice he uses in his street art, negates the act of drawing, favoring a more embodied abstraction technique that sits between Constructivist prouns and midcentury action painting.
Of course, this raises the question: Just what is the act of drawing? Volkan Alkanoglu’s three boards, painstakingly inked over the course of a decade, suggest the answer might be an equation between the hand and time. The layers of shaky lines that make up Sophie Lauriault’s Borderlines, which was drawn by robots while she was a student at SCI-Arc, eliminate the hand entirely, suggesting the answer lies in the blending of emotion with mechanical technique. An emotive and digital answer is also true of Zeina Koreitem and John Mays’ The Collectives, a ten-minute video that owes more to new media precedents than architectural history, in which glitches and tics overwhelm the picture plane with a flood of attention deficit disorder tendencies.
Michael Young’s 2012 Symmetries take an entirely different tact, avoiding any representation of scale or ground at all. The pair resembles Georgia O’Keefe flower studies—soft, kandy-kolored compositions. In his accompanying wall text, Young welcomes painterly comparisons. He argues that these digital works are not drawings at all (even if they are composed of lines), but actually renderings that he understands through the terms of painting: depth, saturation, hue, lumosity. Defining architectural drawing, he seems to suggest, is a counterfactual habit—one as old fashioned as asking that a drawing serve some kind of use.