'Modern Drawings' complements BMA's new wing

October 11, 1994|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

That the Baltimore Museum of Art has a major modern drawings collection is in large part due to Edward M. Benesch, who died last June at the age of 82.

A Baltimore-born interior designer who lived in New York, Mr. Benesch and his wife, Vivian, began collecting contemporary drawings in 1959. Their collection was subsequently given to the museum in memory of their son Thomas, killed in an automobile accident. But even after the gift, and his wife's death in 1969, Mr. Benesch went on giving art to the museum. Evidence of the quality of the collection is to be found in the current exhibit "Major Modern Drawings," shown in conjunction with the opening of the new wing for modern art. More than a third of the show's 36 drawings are from the Benesch collection.

This exhibit is both distinguished in its own right and complements the paintings and sculpture installed in the new wing.

About half the artists are represented in both places, inviting comparisons. Bruce Nauman's drawing "Egret Target" (1982) sends an environmental message as strongly as his neon outside the building, "Violins Violence Silence" (1981-1982), sends a message about violence in the society, and as his new wing sculpture, "Deaf Dumb Blind" (1989), sends a message about our duty to pay attention to the world.

Ellsworth Kelly's representative drawing "Sweet Pea" (1960) is on the face of it quite different from his three abstract paintings the new wing, but it reflects the same quiet joy in seeing.

Robert Motherwell's early multi-media drawing and collage, "The Joy of Living" (1943), has a depth and complexity that reward contemplation. His new wing painting, "Africa" (1965), makes an immediate impression, in part because it's so big, but it is ultimately less satisfying.

The drawing show also includes works by some major artists who are not to be seen in the new wing, among them Romare Bearden, Mel Bochner, Richard Diebenkorn, Eva Hesse and Claes Oldenburg.

While at the museum, also see "Three Drawings." This show consists of Charles Sheeler's "Rocks at Steichen's" (1937), Vija Celmin's "Galaxy (Cassiopeia)" (1973) and Brice Marden's "Untitled" (1974). All very different at first glance, they begin to speak to one another if you let them. Marden's abstract grid, for instance, shows elements of light and dark and of recession that echo Sheeler's landscape drawing. And each can be enjoyed as a superb and painstaking example of its artist's achievement.

ART REVIEW

What: Two shows: "Major Modern Drawings From the Collection" and "Three Drawings"

Where: The Baltimore Museum of Art, Art Museum Drive near Charles and 31st streets

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through Dec. 18

Admission: $5.50 adults, $3.50 seniors and students, $1.50 ages 7 through 18

Call: (410) 396-7100

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