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Knowledge About a Thing: Carroll Dunham’s Drawings

Drawings 1982-96 is a modestly titled but very revealing exhibition of drawings by Carroll Dunham, the bulk of which had been owned by Illeana Sonnabend, the artist’s New York gallerist from 1988 to 1994. These works track two distinct periods in Dunham’s artistic life: his early successes from 1982 to 1984 and a middle time of uncertainty and great experimentation coupled with early fatherhood and an art market depression from 1988 to 1993. They elucidate the origins of Dunham’s visual vocabulary and his turn toward figuration.

The drawings vary in size and material, but are bound together by Dunham’s belief that they could be shown in a gallery setting, which is to say, they’re different animals from the drawings we are used to seeing over the last decade, most recently at a 2015 solo booth at Frieze New York. For the artist, these are not studies, but primary works as important as his paintings. Behind each of these sheets, however, are stacks of smaller, often looser notational drawings that the artist kept mostly private and considered separate from his more formal drawings. It wasn’t until an exhibition at the Drammens Museum in Norway in 2006 and accompanying book that the two drawing modes linked up. Or, as Dunham’s longtime friend, painter Terry Winters, puts it, “Tip [Dunham’s nickname] pushes the extremes of what or how little notation, as diary entry or memorandum, can become ‘drawing’. That acceptance of less paradoxically allows him to generate more — more work, more subject.”...

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