The Mills Gallery at the Boston Center for the Arts has given the summer to “Drawing Connections: 23d Drawing Show,” an exhibition that started out as an annual affair, and now comes every other year. A good many of them this century have gone googly-eyed over how versatile drawing is: Look! You can do it in performance! It can drive a piece of video art!
By now, drawing’s ability to leap from medium to medium is widely embraced. “Drawing Connections” curator James Hull makes a canny move by returning to fundamentals. That doesn’t mean everything here is graphite or ink on paper. Rather, the show embraces the idea that almost everybody draws — we doodle and scribble, we diagram and underline — and art springs from that impulse.
Cathy McLaurin’s deep, sprawling collage “The North Wind and the Sun” follows the diagrammatic theme. She sets her hometown of Siler City, N.C., at the center, and maps, conceptually and geographically, its ties to the chicken processing industry, with news stories, photographs, and meandering lines in orange tape.
Laura Gibellini’s video “Study for (a) Landscape” animates topographical mapping. The video imbues the map with three-dimensionality, sweeping us through the virtual space, altering our perspectives on the lines, which shift from map to abstraction to landscape and back.
Then there are pieces, such as “When drawing becomes performance” by the Canadian performance art duo The Two Gullivers, which originate as brainstorming sketches. They’re installed as a grid, and each features a man and a woman involved in bizarre actions; in one, they’re clad in brick buildings up to their waists. As a whole, it becomes an epic narrative, of the kind Edward Gorey might create.
Melanie Pankau offers an intriguing taste of her process with “Accumulations #5,” which includes a sketch on vellum, a palette dabbed with acrylic paint, and a shimmery, crisp painting of layered, linked geometric forms in degrees of icy blue.
Some artists push what looks like doodling into obsessive, cascading forms — such as the voluptuous columns in Jowita Wyszomirska’s “Coil #1,” each built from little colored disks drawn in gouache, linked by graphite threads. Heidi Whitman’s bustling collages of cut paper tangling on the wall also feel like they burgeoned from a thousand tiny gestures. Her “From Z to A,” with its rectangular forms, looks like a city neighborhood collapsing and tangling with itself.
Julie Curtiss’s sweet and comic “Jungle Museum” in ruddy pigment on paper depicts a jungle in bold, comic-book lines, with vines and trees holding up three paintings of biomorphic forms that could be fruit or twists of roots. Cindy Stockton Moore’s dark, shimmery watercolor wall drawing “Covering Our Tracks” looks like a scene from a dream, with several women in bathing suits retreating from a pond, where a man appears to have drowned.
“Drawing Connections” is a strong exhibit, handsomely installed, but its point to contextualize drawing’s infinite possibilities, rather than to highlight a single angle, makes it less powerful. Case in point, the 2005 BCA drawing show, curated by Laura Donaldson, that stuck to wall drawings, which was a clean, imposing, especially memorable exhibition.
STRONG WOULD-BE MASTERS
This year’s “Boston Young Contemporaries” show, the eighth annual juried exhibition of work by artists getting their MFAs in art schools around New England, may be the strongest one yet. It’s smaller than usual. There are fewer self-consciously grand paintings. The attention to detail feels sharper.
This summer, the exhibit takes up only half of the cavernous 808 Gallery at Boston University. Jurors Camilo Alvarez, owner of Samson, painter Meghan Brady, and Fabio Fernandez, exhibition gallery director at the Society of Arts and Crafts, had to be more selective.
It’s still a big show, with 54 artists, many showing multiple works. Last year’s trend was strong ceramics; this year, several artists walk an intriguing line between painting and textiles. Tuo Wang is the strongest. Wang’s diptych “Mistaken for Strangers I,” features crochet and other needlework in lush blues and purples with paint on canvas. Tufts of yarn and dribbles of paint create a fertile dialogue between two mediums with sharply divergent histories and conceptual baggage.
Sculptor Nicole Daviau’s sharp, inviting “With/ In/ Between” is a cube made of spectral white plastic. Step inside. Its corners are soft like those of a cave, and an illuminated column down the center makes it feel like a site for ritual. Plastic has never seemed so sensuous. Other talented sculptors include Aaron Badham, whose “Pink Cadillac” sets a pillowy pink form against concrete, and Bayne Peterson, who uses the earpiece of a set of eyeglasses for a model, to make large, gestural wall sculptures.
Mary Zompetti’s abstract photograph “Prisms” plays as much with painterly concerns as photographic ones, layering shadows and scattered speckles over a ground of straight, luminous threads of color. Angela Mittiga’s more traditional color photo, “This December,” has an ache, with its frayed evergreen twigs and a splintery trunk left in the dirt amid a smattering of snow.
Carolyn Burns offers two notably different paintings of parking lots: “Stuck,” which is moody, gray, and gestural, and “Summer Possibilities,” flat and neat in eye-pleasing twilit tones, hinting more at summer’s end than its possibilities.
BOSTON YOUNG CONTEMPORARIES
At: 808 Gallery,
808 Commonwealth Ave., through Aug. 24.
(No phone), www.bostonyoungcontemporaries.com