Contemporary drawings to tour UK in first-time co-curated exhibition

For the first time, the British Museum has co-curated an exhibition with partner museums from around the UK to display and then tour contemporary artworks from its Prints and Drawings collection. 

Pushing paper: contemporary drawing from 1970 to now will illustrate how artists experiment with the power of paper to express their ideas, pushing the medium in new directions. It will highlight the breadth and quality of the Museum’s collection of modern art, as well as its global scope. The exhibition of 56 works will showcase the astonishing diversity of contemporary drawing over the last fifty years, with graphic work by artists such as David Hockney, Rachel Whiteread, Sol LeWitt, Anish Kapoor, Tracey Emin and Grayson Perry, as well as exciting works by emerging artists like Hamid Sulaiman and Rachel Duckhouse. Many of these pieces will be on public display for the first time, including work by Gwen Hardie, Jonathan Callan and Jan Vanriet.

The exhibition will begin at the British Museum and then travel on to partner museums as part of the Museum’s National Programmes, allowing more people around the UK the opportunity to see British Museum objects outside of London. In addition, each partner venue will embed works from their own collection into the exhibition whilst on display, creating a unique new interpretation of Pushing paper at every partner venue.

In a new way of working, curatorial staff from partner museums collaborated with the British Museum to decide on themes within the exhibition and to research and select the works on display, as well as contribute chapters to the accompanying catalogue. Devising Pushing paper in this collective way allows the knowledge and expertise of staff at both the partner museums and the British Museum to be built upon, reaping the rewards of skill sharing, and building up a network of expertise in works on paper.

Pushing paper is one of the British Museum’s first exhibitions to focus exclusively on drawing from the 1970s to the modern day. Amongst the oldest forms of human creativity, drawing is experiencing a resurgence in popularity as artists increasingly choose the medium as a means to examine the modern world, with topics ranging from explorations of gender and political activism to questions of belonging and human sexuality. Grouped into thematic areas examining Identity, Place and Space, Time and Memory, Power and Protest, and Systems and Process, the display seeks to highlight artists’ affinities through the medium of drawing, despite their differing locations, styles and periods, and to examine why drawing continues to thrive and evolve as a means of artistic expression.

Highlights include a scathing satire of U.S. President Richard Nixon by Philip Guston (1913 – 1980), drawn months before Nixon went on to win a landslide election. Created two years before the Watergate scandal and three before his resignation, this acerbic criticism of a divisive President remains as biting and relevant as the day that it was penned. Judy Chicago’s (b. 1939) piece Driving the World to Destruction (1983) examines the concept of toxic masculinity and its dire consequences for the future of humanity. Meanwhile a drawing by Pablo Bronstein (b. 1977), Greenwich Pendulum Mantel Clock (2018) examines the enduring legacy of Britain’s recent colonial past through the lens of a ‘world clock’, where Greenwich Mean Time dominates smaller dials representing Britain’s former colonial capitals. The drawing examines the vanity of the grand ‘world project’ of nineteenth century standardised timekeeping as a symbol of colonial power. Pushing paper also encompasses the expansion of drawing to include more experimental approaches, such as Roger Ackling’s (1947 – 2014) work which traced the sun’s rays by burning marks into wood as a meditation on the passing of time.

With the generous support of the Bridget Riley Art Foundation as part of its ongoing championing of drawing, Pushing paper will go on to travel to four UK venues from February 2020 to March 2021: The Oriental Museum in Durham between 29 February and 17 May 2020, Pier Arts Centre in Stromness on 13 June until 5 September 2020, Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea from 19 September until 29 November 2020, and finally Cooper Gallery in Barnsley between 9 December 2020 and 6 March 2021.

Pushing paper will follow on from the success of previous touring exhibition Lines of thought: Drawing from Michelangelo to now, supported by the Bridget Riley Art Foundation, as well as the more recent Portrait of the Artist: Käthe Kollwitz, which began as a touring exhibition and will finish its tour at the British Museum as Pushing paper begins its own UK tour.

Isabel Seligman, Bridget Riley Art Foundation Curator of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum said:

Over the past 50 years the definition of drawing has continually expanded, pushing the limits of what a drawing can mean and be. Drawings in the exhibition encroach on territories traditionally associated with mediums including sculpture, land art and even performance. This exciting opportunity to see a lesser-known aspect of the British Museum’s collection demonstrates the significance of drawing to some of the most important contemporary artists from across the globe.

Katy Freer, Exhibitions Officer at Glynn Vivian Art Gallery and co-curator said:

It has been an absolute delight to work on Pushing paper, from the time to explore and research in the wonderful setting of the British Museum Study Room, to meeting curators from across the UK, along with the fascinating discussions that came out of this. At a time when regional venues can struggle with funding, this collaboration with the British Museum will bring some fantastic works to Swansea, and it will be great to see them with works from our own collection.

Hartwig Fischer, Director of the British Museum said:

It is wonderful that the collaborative conception of Pushing paper gives the opportunity for curators and visitors around the UK to benefit from this collective way of working. In 2018/19, over 2,800 objects were loaned by the British Museum to 147 venues in the UK, reaching 10.5 million people outside London – nearly twice as many as visit the Museum in Bloomsbury in one year. With the work of our National Programmes we are committed to making the British Museum’s collection accessible UK-wide.

Grayson Perry, Trustee of the British Museum and Chancellor of University of the Arts London said:

Since the dawn of time, drawing has been and still is, a vital and central component of visual art. How else would I get an image out of my head and into the world?!

The free exhibition Pushing paper: contemporary drawing from 1970 to now, opens at the British Museum on 12 September 2019 in Room 90 and goes on to tour the UK between February 2020 and March 2021.