Exhibition Review by Chris Grega:
Installations by DARREN KRAFT & CLARA WILLIAMS at Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery, 526 W. 26th St./ room #213, NY, NY 10001,
October 20 - November 18, 2000. Tele: 212.243.3335; Fax: 212.243.1059; E-mail: klagsbrun@earthlink.net

Darren Kraft’s Zobeide

The first artist in the show, Clara Williams, presents a gallery full of objects and drawings inspired by the absurdist playwright Eugene Ionesco. The objects are arranged in small groups, and consist of suitcases, beds and other mundane things. They are meant to act as stage sets for an actorless play with the title Man With Bags, in which the objects are so wrought with meaning that the actor becomes unnecessary. Whether or not these static plays are successful or not remains to be seen, as they are described as ‘in process’ and one cannot judge a narrative without seeing it in its entirety. Accompanying the stage sets in the center of the gallery are a great number of drawings on the wall, which are meant as storyboards for the objects on the floor.

We see artists like Bruce Nauman who find their ideas through drawing, it is how they think. A certain stylization emerges as their mental vocabulary acquires its working tools -- charcoal and smear pencils, white paint, off white paper to show the white paint. etc. They draw and rub out and paint over, then they scribble notes into the margins to remind themselves of things that aren’t evident in the drawings -- time and movement and pathos. Such is the nature of the drawing as a tool to an end, a notation method for ideas. It can a residue of a mentally explorative process, a reminder of the raw creation of the idea.

This sort of informational drawing is a preliminary study to the completion of an artwork and can be, as with Nauman, the origin of the artwork itself. Thus the drawings can have a draw and power all their own, in that they infer a more immediate connection to the artist in both the physical and cognitive sense.

With that said, the informational sketch has become a style of drawing which can be imitated to effect for either good or ill. We have artists who use it to create a conscious effect, such as Illya Kabakov, and we have others who attempt to legitimize their drawings by imitating the informational nature of the study sketch.

The drawings Williams has placed on the wall are far more interesting than the items on the floor, in the drawings we find a drawing of small scene surrounded by notes and indicators as to what is or might be happening. Standard practice in the realm of informational drawing, but that everything is too perfect to be an exploratory sketch. The drawings on the paper are traced from a projection, they are repetitive and perfect in form. They are not sketches. The information around the edges is carefully printed and worded. The level of precision present would be fine with illustrations, but these drawings are clearly meant to be study sketches of possible scenarios for the future -- this made most evident by the actual notes written on the paper in which are questions the artist has written for herself rather than information meant for the viewer.

We are given a drawing which is an imitation of drawing. A highly stylized trick to create a myth of drama about their creation. In this can be found the possible failing of these drawings as drawings, and the failing makes one suspicious of the narrative the drawings contain as well. They are neither storyboard nor sketch nor informative panel. In a play by Ionesco called The Bald Soprano, the characters speak in the manner of foreign language learning books, with odd stilted phrases and peculiar emphasis. These drawings seem to quote Ionesco in a way Williams never intended.

In contrast to this, Darren Kraft seems to more successfully negotiate these tricky waters with his model of an imaginary city described by characters in the book Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. In Calvino’s short story of the city of Zobeide, different men had the same questionable dream of pursuing a naked women through the streets of a fantastic city. She would always escape. These men sought the fantastic imaginary city but could not find it, instead finding each other and realizing their common dream. As a group they built the city themselves, each man reconstructing the path down which he chased her and then blocking the end of it so that she would have no escape.

Darren Kraft has built a foamcore architectural model of the city. The plans of the city have even been generated in an ingenious way that take much of the responsibility from the artist. Initially, a video was composed of people wandering through different architectural spaces. Appropriated video clips were used to create the dreamlike narrative which is edited in a seamlessly conventional manner. This narrative maps out a completely new and fantastic space physically, which the artist then based the model on. Quite an elegant and beautiful idea, because the generation of the city has followed a manner so similar to the randomness and impossibility of dreams (and the rather loose writing style of Calvino). Working the cultural material of another artist is always difficult, to quote literature often winds up in artworks being derivative of their source -- never adding up to anything more.

Kraft has, in Zobeide, managed to overcome this problemby taking the method of Calvino, rather than the narrative he created, and used it to make an artwork. Williams on the other hand seems to be content with merely emulating Absurdist theater by the addition of actorless plays and proposals which fit easily into the Absurdist mold. Whereas Williams is imitating the conventions of previous styles of artmaking to create art objects, Kraft is utilizing conventional methods to realize and possibly improve upon a remarkable idea proposed by Calvino. His architectural model is a common sense solution to the problem of imaging this remarkable dream world.


Chris Grega is an independent writer working in New York City; e-mail: chrisgrega@hotmail.com.

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