Apparitions: Frottages and Rubbings from 1860 to Now
The technique known as rubbing or frottage falls somewhere between drawing, printmaking, and sculpture, combining elements of all these mediums. It involves making an impression of an object through the transfer of its forms onto a sheet of paper, which is usually achieved by rubbing the paper over the object or incised surface with a marking agent such as graphite or wax crayon. The term frottage derives from the French frotter (to rub) and is most commonly associated today with the Surrealist artist Max Ernst and the idiosyncratic images that he created from a variety of surfaces, including wood and leaves, for his famous print portfolio Histoire Naturelle (1926). Ernst claimed that he discovered the technique in 1925, while gazing at the floorboards of his hotel room, and he regarded it as his contribution to automatism. As a type of automatic drawing, or a partially indirect process applied to achieve unpremeditated imaginary compositions, frottage became one of the key practices of Surrealist drawing.
Whether used for documentation or as a form of artistic expression, rubbings can be regarded as shadows of an object, and to a certain extent they can be seen as capturing a moment in time. Their spectral appearance evokes a sense of ghostliness—indeed, the artist Henri Michaux referred to his rubbings as “apparitions”—and their subjects are often traces of the human body or eerie remnants of a lost place or time. The exhibition Apparitions: Frottages and Rubbings from 1860 to Now will examine the use of this particular medium from the late nineteenth century to the present day. The technique itself is the element that links works by artists from different periods of the modern era, and from different parts of the world, including historical figures such as the Czech Surrealist Jindřich Štýrský; masters of twentieth century avant-garde movements like Arte Povera with Alighiero Boetti and Giuseppe Penone; members of the Pop Art movement such as Roy Lichtenstein and Jim Dine; and contemporary artists such as Mona Hatoum, Gabriel Orozco, and Zarina. The exhibition will also feature lesser known figures, such as the Czech artist Adriena Simotova, who recently passed away at the age of 91.
In fact, Ernst’s frottage technique is rooted in an important tradition of rubbing for artistic, historical, and scientific purposes that can be traced as far back as the sixth century AD. The transfers on paper of designs and inscriptions in ancient Chinese tombs, for instance, are sometimes all that remain of sites that have since disappeared. In Britain, there has been an enthusiasm for brass rubbings and the reproduction of tomb designs and memorial plaques in medieval churches since the early nineteenth century. Today, these works are more than mere records as they represent specific aesthetic choices of the “rubbers” of past eras. Over the centuries, leaf and plant rubbings have provided accurate reproductions of the natural world. Here too, careful compositional judgment was applied to the presentation of these reproductive works that nestle between art and science. Rarely exhibited examples of monumental British brass tomb rubbings and plant rubbings made for scientific purposes have been selected for the installation.
Apparitions will be the first museum exhibition to present an in-depth and comprehensive survey of a versatile technique that is both deeply rooted in art history and intrinsically current. Works by approximately 60 artists will be featured in the exhibition, which will be divided into loosely chronological and thematic sections. The eclectic yet singularly focused selection will demonstrate the multifaceted ways in which artists have played with this technique, using it to expand the traditional boundaries of draftsmanship. Apparitions is co-organized by the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, and The Menil Collection, Houston, and is curated by Allegra Pesenti. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue.
This exhibition is generously supported by the City of Houston.
Do Ho Suh. Rubbing/Loving Project: Metal Jacket, 2014. Colored pencil on mulberry paper. 85.5 x 69 in. (217.2 x 175.3 cm).
©Do Ho Suh. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.
September 10, 2015 - January 3, 2016
Frottages and Rubbings
from 1860 to Now