Ballpoint Pen Drawing Since 1950

March 24, to August 25, 2013

Conceived at the end of the nineteenth century, perfected in the 1930s, and popularized after World War II, the ballpoint pen has become an indispensable part of everyday life. Although it is the most prevalent tool used for handwriting, art does not immediately come to mind when one thinks of the pen. In fact, the general consensus that the ballpoint pen contributed to a decline in the craft of handwriting suggests that any marks made with it are intrinsically sloppy and unskilled.

The ballpoint has slowly been adopted by artists since 1950, with a startling increase in its use over the past three decades. This exhibition and its accompanying publication bring together the work of eleven artists who have done extensive work with the pen, disproving the view that the ballpoint does not have aesthetic potential and that its range is limited. Artists have been attracted to the pen for many reasons, including the effortless drawing speed afforded by its nature, its ability to make an almost endless line without stopping, its pedestrian and "low art" pedigree, its intimate relationship with both handwriting and doodling, and the unique color and quality of its ink (ballpoint ink dries almost instantaneously).

For those born after the beginning of the 1950s, the ballpoint is ubiquitous; a reality that is ever present and practically invisible. For many artists, this state of affairs has created a situation where the ballpoint has become the vernacular go-to tool, which despite its supposedly limited nature can be coaxed into performing a seemingly unlimited range of aesthetic roles, becoming in many ways the pencil of our era.

Ballpoint Pen Drawing Since 1950 includes works by Rita Ackermann, Bill Adams, Alighiero Boetti, Dawn Clements, Russell Crotty, Jan Fabre, Alberto Giacometti, Joanne Greenbaum, Martin Kippenberger, Il Lee, and Toyin Odutola.

Richard Klein, exhibitions director

Top of page: Il Lee, BL-120, 2011
Ballpoint pen on canvas
Courtesy of the artist and Art Projects International, New York