Ordinary Made Extraordinary

January 11, 2012

New Michael Craig-Martin exhibit in Brady Gallery showcases the art in everyday objects.

Artist Michael Craig-Martin’s new exhibit, “Michael Craig-Martin: Drawings,” currently on display at the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery on GW’s Foggy Bottom Campus, showcases 30 images of subjects found in ordinary life, portrayed in striking black line drawings. “Drawings” represents Mr. Craig-Martin’s first ever Washington, D.C., exhibition.

At the centerpiece of the new exhibit is a wall installation of “Ulster Museum Wall Drawing,” which Mr. Craig-Martin originally created on drafting film in 1978. On Jan. 10, he created a 5-by-4 foot version of the piece specifically for the Brady Gallery, using black crepe tape applied directly to the gallery wall. Objects in the piece include a hammer, a ladder, a table and a paper cup.

“I had an idea from early on, an instinct, that the truth of things lay somewhere in the nature of basic things and experiences,” he said. “The potential for everything important in life is actually sitting there in the ordinary that we don’t always necessarily recognize.”

Mr. Craig-Martin was born in Dublin but lived in D.C. from age three through his high school graduation. He attended what is now St. Anselm’s Abbey School, which he credited as a pivotal experience in his development as an artist. Even though the school was very rigorous and strict, he said, the teachers were adept at working art into the everyday curriculum, whether by playing a recording of an opera or reading James Thurber’s work out loud.

“They did things that were passionately cultural without being snobbish,” he said. “And they did it in such a way that art seemed very much a part of a true, rich life.”

Director and Chief Curator of University Galleries Lenore Miller said she was drawn to Mr. Craig-Martin’s practice of depicting ordinary objects that are becoming outdated as technology evolves—things like telephone handsets and file cabinets.

“These hand-drawn images seek to remove the artist’s hand from the process,” she explained. “And anticipating the widespread usage of the computer and computer graphics, these drawings challenge our ability to perceive a line in space.”

"Michael Craig-Martin: Drawings" was selected from a recent exhibition organized by Alan Cristea Gallery in London. Mr. Craig-Martin’s work is also in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and the Tate Gallery in London. He was recently commissioned to create a poster for the 2012 London Olympics.

Alan Cristea Gallery Director David Cleaton-Roberts said that he was thrilled to be able to bring Mr. Craig-Martin’s work to Washington. “Washington itself was so formative in his interest in art. Going to visit the Phillips Collection was one of the experiences that opened his eyes to modern art. To come back for an exhibit like this that actually covers work from the early ’60s onward is great. And this is a lovely space for drawings—a very intimate space.”

Mr. Cleaton-Roberts said Mr. Craig-Martin rarely makes wall drawings, and the piece he installed in the Brady Gallery was the first he’d done in many years. “Somehow it felt like the right thing to do here,” he said.

Mr. Craig-Martin’s career as an artist has also included conceptual art works, including his famous 1973 work, “An Oak Tree,” in which Mr. Craig-Martin installed a shelf on a gallery wall and placed a glass of water on the shelf. In accompanying text, Mr. Craig-Martin described how the glass of water was actually an oak tree. Later works have included large-scale black-and-white line drawings that filled entire galleries, and brightly colored paintings and public art installations.

“Michael Craig-Martin: Drawings” is free and open to the public through Feb. 17. The Luther W. Brady Art Gallery is open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.