Jim Dine's Glyptotek Drawings, now on view at the Morgan Library, is a little conservative by today's contemporary art standards. There's no USB drive sticking out of the wall, nor are there QR codes to scan with your iPhone. There isn't even a loud video playing. It is, instead, a quiet show of representational drawings–47 in total, with an additional triptych and book of prints made from the drawings via photogravure–all based on sculptures from an eponymous museum of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture in Munich.
The thrill, supposedly, should come from seeing such work through an exceptionally gifted set of eyes and hands—as Dine described himself in a 2004 podcast at the National Gallery in DC. Unconvinced when I first heard it, I wanted to retort with a complaint once overheard after the showing of a latter-day Charlie Chaplin movie: “I don't care if he is a genius. I don't like that man.”
Exceptionalism is a hard notion to insist that any viewer see in these pictures. Limbs are oddly bent. Facial features are out of proportion. Muscles and tendons in Dine's drawing of the Barberini Faun are blockish and awkwardly modeled, like the work of a student who hasn't quite mastered foreshortening. Sitting in a boring lecture, the same student might have doodled his profile of Sappho, whose eyes, ears, and hair have a maladroit intensity of detail that is not instantly likeable. No individual drawing, in fact, has any eminent stop-you-in-your tracks quality that might seduce a viewer.
And yet, the exhibition as a whole exceeds the sum of its parts. Approaching the drawings in tight succession in a single, dark-toned room, I had the down-right mah-velous feeling of walking around in the artist's head. The forty works on transparent paper are indeed a lot like thoughts: they refer to physical reality through a filter of personal nuance and fallible whittles, and many seem half-formed or incomplete. The drawings are overrun with pencil marks that are smudged and blurred, contours that are rubbed out, and traces of rubber eraser left on the paper. There is a dramatic rawness to the pictures (and to the exhibition) that, for me, overrode supposed flaws that might preclude an emotional response matching what Dine might have felt when he saw the statues for the first time. If he thinks he's a genius so be it — the show's enjoyable so long as one puts such impossible expectations aside.
AFC's rating: 6½ /10 (Reid Singer)