When Brett Littman, former Executive Director of The Drawing Center at 35 Wooster Street in Manhattan, visited Neo Rauch in his Leipzig, German studio, he asked the artist to show his drawings for the first time in the U.S.
Rauch protested: “I have paintings, I don’t have drawings!” Littman picked up a pile of random drawings from the floor and so FROM THE FLOOR was born – an exhibit with thumbnail sketches, doodles, figures, and landscapes – over 150 rarely seen drawings, on view at the Center since April.
Development Associate Tiffany, our affable and knowledgeable guide, shared gems likes these throughout our visit.
She explained that Rauch’s work defies definition. Informed by classical and science fiction elements, the drawings have an overriding haunted and ominous quality attributed to his subconscious. “I don’t think about what I do. I just let ideas stream through my pencil.” Yet if pressed for interpretations, Rauch couldn’t give them.
But Tiffany could. Rauch’s 21-year-old parents died in a train crash just after he was born. The sinister quality of his works speaks to the alienation he felt growing up. There is a large drawing of his parents holding him in their arms as they would a baby, and yet he appears as an adult. Looming in the background is a gargantuan conductor who caused the crash. It is both heartbreaking and grotesque, as Rauch gets his toxicity out on paper.
Many of his drawings have a strange humor about them: a man sucking on an unattached cow’s udder; a doodle of a man’s hand up a woman’s skirt; two somber fellows with plants growing out of their heads.
Downstairs an exhibit called As If: Alternative Histories from Then to Now, also shows different artists imagining events from their past. But the tonality has gone from somber to spirited. Especially joyful were the brilliantly colored silkscreen comic book prints by Jack Kirby and Mark Englert. Although these are extremely rare, the Center received them from friends in high places at the Desert Island Comic Store.
Both exhibits close on July 28th . They are too weird, wild and wonderful to miss. Go to drawingcenter.org or call 22-219-2166.