Drawings: After Photography

  • Janet Cooling, Untitled, 1983. Courtesy of the artist.

  • David Middaugh, 5 Untitled Drawings, 1978. Courtesy of Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York.

  • Christof Kohlhofer, "Johnson" from Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, 1981. Courtesy of Protech McNeil, New York.

  • Gregg Smith, Communist Chinese Cooks, 1981. Courtesy of Semaphore Gallery, New York.

Curated by William Olander

The resurgence of painting that has characterized contemporary art production since the 1970s of course has carried with it intense activity in the field of drawing. Though not as valued a currency (or as expensive to produce) as works on canvas or bronze, drawings flow into the market, insuring the continued vitality (or at least credibility) of the painter’s or sculptor’s trade. Words and phrases like intimate, persona, immediate, directly uncensored, and spontaneously generative attach themselves to drawing and thus convince collectors that they have acquired a bit of the artist’s own talent – indeed a moment of “expressive inspiration.”


In a simple fashion, we have returned to drawing, the activity that has actualized these images. For a second we can stop and contemplate the pictures before us, before they are lost again in the media barrage, the “phantasmagoria,” of postmodern culture. The return of the repressed, whether it is the radical power of the sexual, the feminine, and the homoerotic, or the fascism of Nazi propaganda, is upon us. And these drawings are short circuits in the transmission of signals, disruptions in the smooth flow of ideology, the simulation of the simulacrum: empty vessel, dead culture. The avant-garde strategies on which modernism was founded (at least since Greenberg and others signaled the opposition between avant-garde and kitsch) have been dismantled by new challenges: an attack on authority by representing it (the magical ritual of possession), the leveling of criteria in favor of displacement, and increasingly ardent attempts at the democratization of culture. Unlike the bourgeois of the avant-garde, postmodernism is founded not on opposition but on recognition of contradiction rather than utopian resolution, on awareness of the severe disjunctures between culture and society, between what we know and what we accept as reality. What we have experienced is a transfer of culture to alternative sites – places we cannot imagine even though they are constantly represented; they are in our world picture but only as flashes of memory after photography.


—Excerpt from catalogue essay by William Olander, 1984



William Olander

William Olander received a PhD in art history in 1983 from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. In 1983 and 1984 he was Acting Director of the Allen Art Museum of Oberlin College, where he served as the Curator of Modern Art since 1979. He was appointed the Senior Curator at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City in 1985. From his arrival at the New Museum, Olander had been very much involved with video and performance art, and with the language and theoretical issues of post-modernism.

Olander’s 1986 exhibition, Homo Video: Where We Are Now included several videos responding to the AIDS crisis. In 1987, at his invitation, the group Act Up (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) presented an installation in the museum’s window on Broadway near Prince Street juxtaposing information and statistics on AIDS with apparently indifferent, callous, or manipulative responses to AIDS from national figures. As a prolific curator, writer, and scholar until his death in 1989, Olander considered how the discourse of social culture is inextricably tied to artistic production.


touring schedule

Newport Harbor Art Museum
Newport Beach, CA, United States
October 17, 1985 - December 8, 1985

Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum
Wausau, WI, United States
July 25, 1985 - September 1, 1985

Aspen Center for the Visual Arts
Aspen, CO, United States
May 23, 1985 - July 13, 1985

Mitchell Museum
Mount Vernon, IL, United States
December 1, 1984 - January 2, 1985

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