Drawn In

The Metro Center for the Visual Arts snags an impressive road show.

Perisho has installed several of the most important drawings in the final leg of the show, where the large gallery's main wall is dominated by a gigantic drawing of a pair of figures in "Scale Study for Woman and Man," a charcoal and crayon on gessoed paper by New York artist William Beckman. The use of the paired figures, evocative of the many Adam and Eve portraits done in Northern Europe during the Renaissance, is an old interest for Beckman; in the 1970s, he began to make pictures combining a self-portrait with a portrait of his wife, Diane. His severe facial expression and his wife's severe features in these pieces are perfectly in line with this austere Northern tradition.

In "Scale Study for Woman and Man," Diane is seen in full-frontal nudity, while Beckman, though shirtless, is still wearing pants. CVA director Perisho points out that this adds a confrontational -- almost pornographic --quality to the drawing, but I wonder how much more confrontational it would have been if Beckman had also been depicted nude.

Another masterful drawing is Will Barnet's "Study for Early Spring," a charcoal on paper from 1976. The horizontal drawing depicts groups of women standing among a forest of trees. The women, whose features have been conventionalized and reduced, are dressed in nineteenth-century clothing of long dresses and shawls, and their hair has been put up in buns. These costumes, combined with the rhythm of the tree trunks and branches, give this Barnet drawing an art nouveau feel. Barnet lives in New York, but he was classically trained at the Boston Museum of the Fine Arts and so was perfectly positioned in the 1970s to be a pioneer in the figural revival that transformed the 1980s.

Next to the Barnet is the only drawing with a connection to Colorado: Betty Woodman's "Drawing for Balustrade #81." Though Woodman left Boulder a few years ago, retiring to New York and Italy, she still lived in Colorado in 1993-1994, when she created this drawing. The piece is related to her 1995 Denver International Airport commission, "Balustrades," a pair of stunning ceramic sculptures on the mezzanine level of the Jeppesen Terminal.

The Woodman is quite informal, with the artist's footprints marking where she walked across the two-part piece, providing a leitmotif to the disconnected watercolor sketches of abstracted balusters and vases. The palette is predominantly tan and reddish-brown. Though many have noted the influence of the Orient on Woodman's imagery, this piece is a reminder of the importance of Italian art to her work.

Adjacent to the Woodman is one of the only truly abstract pieces in the show, Elizabeth Murray's "Big and Small," a chalk and charcoal on paper from 1975. In this drawing, Murray sets an organic and soft-edged form in red chalk outlined in black charcoal. The shape, roughly a diamond, runs from the top of the paper to the bottom and from one side to the other.

The Murray makes a point about the show and, by implication, about the collection of Little Rock's AAC: Its focus is on contemporary representational art, and abstraction is shortchanged. Having said that, it's still true that this is one of the best shows of the summer, which is saying a lot, since there are many fine exhibitions on display now.

But there's less than a week to check it out -- so get over to the CVA before all of these wonderful drawings go back to Little Rock on Wednesday.

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