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

2nd September 2021

For the first time, the British Museum has co-curated an exhibition with partner museums from around the UK to display and tour contemporary artworks from its Prints and Drawings collection. Pushing paper: contemporary drawing from 1970 to now illustrates how artists experiment with the power of paper to express their ideas.  This inspiring exhibition of 56 works will showcase the astonishing quality and diversity of contemporary drawing over the last fifty years, with graphic work by artists including  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 launched in September 2019 at the  British Museum travelling 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 a new way of working, Alison Cooper, Exhibitions Officer at Barnsley Museums and curatorial staff from partner museums collaborated with the British Museum to decide on themes for the exhibition. The curators researched and selected the works on display, as well as making an invaluable contribution in writing chapters to the accompanying catalogue. Devising Pushing paper in this collective way allows the knowledge and expertise of the 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 the 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 be on display at Cooper Gallery, Barnsley 2 October – 5 Feb 2022 having previously been on display at The Oriental Museum, Durham,  Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea. Its final destination will be Pier Arts Centre in Stromness, 2 April – 4 June 2022 before returning to rest in the British Museum stores.

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