Alica Rahon, “Antelope Cat” (1960) oil on board, 24 x 17 inches at Mary-Anne Martin Fine Art (all images by the author for Hyperallergic unless otherwise indicated)

At this year’s edition of Master Drawings New York, I was genuinely and pleasantly surprised to see works from artists I would never expect to be represented in this fair. While I appreciate the historicity of works that predate the modern and contemporary periods, and the somberly scholastic approach (though some galleries get very inventive with their frames) many of these Upper East Side participant galleries take to conveying this historicity, I just love work that is expressly, formally innovative. I found this especially in the collection of works shown at Driscoll Babcock, which included Titus Kaphar, Nancy Grossman, and Alex Katz. These very different artists were brought together in a special loan exhibition, Drawn Together: Five Centuries of Drawings from the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. Typically each year the Master Drawing management team draws these loan exhibitions from a museum connected to an academic institution — a wise move that adds freshness and color to a fair that can otherwise often feel cautiously conventional.

Nancy Grossman, “Gunhead” (1975-81) oilstick and lithograph at Driscoll Babcock gallery (© Nancy Grossman; courtesy Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY)

Titus Kaphar, “The Jerome Project (Asphalt and Chalk) XI” (2015) (portrait of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice) chalk on asphalt paper from the Special Loan Exhibition from Bowdoin College Museum of Art, at Driscoll Babcock Gallery

In general, there was a good deal more modern work in this year’s showing than I recall seeing in previous years. This development may have to do with the recent drift in the art museum circle towards exhibitions that either include modern or contemporary art or make explicit the connections between earlier work and how we live now.

Some of the highlights of the fair for me, besides the aforementioned Driscoll Babcock exhibition, include a Franz Kline oil on paper piece with his telltale black, calligraphic line, but also errant oil stains, perhaps from being inattentively stored by the artist. The gallerist, Jill Newhouse, told me that those stains actually help to authenticate the piece. Also, in her gallery (and also, like the Kline, nonchalantly displayed on a chair) was an acrylic painting on paper by Adolph Gottlieb. At Mireille Mosler’s space there were several hauntingly lovely pieces by the Belgian symbolist painter Xavier Mellery. The paintings depict a peculiar 19th-century culture isolated on the Netherlands island of Marken where all the natives, regardless of social standing, once wore the same traditional costumes.

Adolph Gottlieb, “Mist” (1971) acrylic on paper, 12 x 9 inches, at Jill Newhouse gallery

Franz Kline, “Composition” (1957-60) oil on paper, 11 3/8 x 8 5/8 inches (image courtesy Jill Newhouse gallery)

Xavier Mellery, “Meditation” (c. 1894) pen and black ink, black chalk and wash on board, 30 and 7/8 x 21 and 5/8 inches at Mireille Mosler, Ltd. exhibiting at Jill Newhouse gallery

Xavier Mellery, “Communal power, the decoration project for the Bruxelles City Hotel” (c. 1895) watercolor, ink, and pencil with gold paint, 9 and 3/8 x 5 and 3/8 inches, at Mireille Mosler, Ltd. exhibiting at Jill Newhouse gallery

Lastly there was an intensely dark work of conté crayon on Ingres paper by Georges Seurat titled “La pluie” [The rain] (1882-83) which shows a figure holding an umbrella while the scene around her is filled with an inundation of cross-stitched markings that almost blot out all the light, except for a sliver coming through at the top of the composition. That’s how it felt to me walking through the incessant rain on Saturday. The rain covers everything and almost blots the city out, and then I enter a gallery and there’s a small, illuminated bit of beauty once again.

Georges Seurat “La pluie” (1882-83) Conté crayon on Ingres paper, 9 3/8 x 11 7/8 inches at W. M. Brady & Co. (image courtesy W. M. Brady & Co.)

Charles Angrand, “Maternity” (c. 1895-1900) black Conté crayon on paper, 24 x 18 and 3/8 inches at David Tunick Inc.

Marcelo Bonevardi, “Untitled” (1977) pastel and charcoal on paper, 29 x 23 inches at Leon Tovar gallery

Gunther Gerzso, “Green-Blue-Yellow (Verde-azul-amarillo)” (1968) oil on masonite, 19 x 13 inches at Mary-Anne Martin Fine Art

Henry Moore, “Two Seated Women” (1948) pencil, wax crayon, colored crayon, watercolor, pen, ink, and gouache on paper at Hazlitt

Armando Morales, “Untitled (Bathers)” (1990) oil on canvas, 10 x 16 inches, at Mary-Anne Martin Fine Art

George Romney, “A Study for the Leveson-Gower Children” (1976-7) pen and brown ink at Hazlitt

Horst Janssen, “Self-portrait” (1971) pencil with touches of brown chalk at Stephen Ongpin Fine Art

Simka Simkhovitch, “Sketch for Playing Jacks” (no date) watercolor, graphite on paper, 13 and 1/4 x 10 and 1/2 inches at Taylor Graham gallery

Jacobus Van Looy, “A Water Carrier in Tangier” (1886) pastel on paper, 12 and 5/8 x 9 and 7/8 inches, at Mireille Mosler, Ltd. exhibiting at Jill Newhouse gallery

Dagobert Peche, “Embroidered Tulle Doily” (1917-19) at Shepherd / W & K Galleries (image courtesy Shepherd / W & K Galleries)

The 2020 edition of Master Drawings New York (MDNY) continues through Saturday, February 1st, at various galleries on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. 

Seph Rodney, PhD, is a former senior critic and Opinion Editor for Hyperallergic, and is now a regular contributor to it and the New York Times. In 2020, he won the Rabkin Arts Journalism prize and in...