The Draughtman's Congress: center view
The Draughtsman's Congress
There are three parts to this story.
First, there is the official statement about what
was going on, in the larger, abstract, institutional sense:
I will not say any more about its history, origins,
or intentions, since that is all I know about them.
Second, my personal account, which follows
Third, Minerva Durham's account. She is,
of course, the proprietor of Spring Studio,
and we (see her article for all the names) were
invited to this event as habitués of Spring
Studio. Most of us draw there; some are models.
Congressing with the Draughtsmen
by Gordon Fitch
I was invited to participate in the 'Draughtsman's
Congress' through Spring Studio. The announcement
and URL were about all the information I had.
(I imagined the instigator, a Pole, whose language has
some oddly decorated letters, which yet more or less
follow the sounds they represent, rather savouring
the irrational English spelling of 'draftsman',
whose gh bespeaks an ancient guttural which,
failing to disappear like its sisters in caught
and taught, has migrated to the front of
the mouth and, hanging from the teeth, turned into
a mysterious f waving at the outer world.
I noticed also that the imagined draughtsman was
supposed to be manly and singular, approaching the
'Congress' as an individual, rather than some horde
of indeterminate collectivized draughtsbeings.
Between that individual and the concepts of
congress, of collaboration, then, there was a
Among other things, the prospectus specified that
all sorts of materials would be supplied and we were
not to show up with any. Hence, I dutifully appeared
without supplies or preconceptions at the New Museum
at the appointed time. Wandering around the museum's
slick lobby -- a strange environment for those who
knew the Bowery in the bad old days -- I eventually
found the other members of my group, and after
some bureaucracy, we made our way to the 4th floor
where we found the general project in full flight.
The walls and floor had been covered with pictures
and words; the noise level was high. There were a
lot of people of all kinds there, including small
children, chance visitors, artists, students, and so
on; some painting or drawing, many wandering around,
many merely looking on. In the center of the room
was a round table with some painting and drawing
materials on it, and a teepee, which provided
additional surfaces inside and out. Nearby there
was sculpture of a cubistic standing man or humanoid
being, also providing many paintable surfaces.
As noted, the literature promised a great variety of
painting and drawing materials, but unfortunately
these had not been put out, or were considerably
depleted by the time our group arrived. There were
pint containers of what I guess was tempera, mostly
weak grays and browns and what I call 'landlord
green', a profusion of rather crude and hard-used
small brushes, and some colored pencils and crayons.
Paper was also available if one wished to tape some
to the wall over existing work, but this was not much
done, as the walls generally remained damp and the
paper tended to fall off. I felt somewhat impeded
by the lack of ample supplies of black and other
dark colors, to which I am partial, and of highly
saturated colors. Eventually I was able to get hold
of some fairly uncompromised white and a cobaltish
blue, which, while not possessing the electric quality
I would have liked, sufficed me for most of my visit;
more about that a little below.
Draughtmans Congress, about 2:30 p.m.
I first tried to take in the environment, which
buzzed with past and present energies unleashed pretty
randomly on the walls, floor, teepee, and sculpture,
wondering what I could possibly do with them. (I am
used to working by myself.) Others flung themselves
headlong into the maelstrom. Two of my colleagues
were soon at work on a six-by-six section of the floor.
(I speak of feet, not inches or yards. And indeed,
feet participated in the painting from time to time.)
Draughtsmans Congress: Painting the Floor
Not all was chaotic.
Draughtsmans Congress: Green Demon Tranformation, early stage
In some cases, a number of layers could be discerned
in spite of overpainting. For example, I observed a
large green demon sort of creature grimacing upward
toward the stratosphere. It had been painted over an
area covered with some sort of op-art paper.
When I first encountered
this painting, there was also a deftly painted male
torso including legs (but not feet) within it, but
rather subtle and obscure.
I called attention to it by painting a white
outline around it and some rays shooting off in
another direction from it. I implied, but did not paint in,
head and feet, and backed off. Before very long, a
young woman came along with some bright red paint and
painted a larger, rather raunchy female nude around
and over, but not obscuring, the torso, also within
the demon. She omitted the head; maybe the demon's
head was supposed to suffice. Somewhat later an older man
came along and supplied the body with a vigorous
tough-babe head in the same color. At this point
that section of the wall had become a fully legible
palimpsest of six different artists and at least
three figures, all rather synchronized to one another;
certainly a collaboration of sorts.
Most parts of the room were not so treated. In some
areas, a bold or clever design caused the art to be
left alone, seemingly in respect; in most, anything
painted was soon modified or overpainted and obscured.
Draughtsmans Congress: Green Demon Tranformation, later stage
There were exceptions to this rule of effacement.
I found that it was possible to slide under the table
in the center of the room; its underside was mostly
unused. Pretending I was Michaelangelo working on
the Sistine chapel, I painted a large, soulful eye;
then, feeling it might be lonely, a sensuous mouth
with full lips not too far away. At this point
I noticed someone had written 'IS THIS PLACE SAFE'
and responded in the words of Rilke's famous poem
Herbst (Autumn), 'Und doch
ist einer, welcher dieses Fallen unendlich sanft in
seinen Händen hält' -- 'Yet there is one who holds
this falling forever safe within his hands.' (The
project started in Germany, so a little German was
only reasonable.) An earlier line in the poem reads
'And in the night, the heavy earth falls, down from
all the stars, into aloneness' and when I emerged a
woman was painting the word 'LONELINESS' on a part of
the tepee. I told her about the poem under the table.
She paused and gave it some thought and after a
moment or two suggested that I go write another poem
there, perhaps mistaking me for Mr. Rilke, and in
any case evidently wishing to remain consistent in
her specialty. Instead, I wandered off. Later I
came back and painted a circle over 'LONELINESS'
with a single small dot in it. (Miss Loneliness had
departed.) Not long after that someone drew more
circles within the circle around the dot, forming
a target; indeed, often the lonely are targets.
But then it was joined by other targets. One imagined
they could gang up on something. Transformation
The rest of the time, wishing to steal an
uncharacteristic march on virtue and prove not
domineering but eager to serve, I busied myself
drawing 'neurons' in spaces between others' objects,
by which I mean I made small blueish-white round
radiant things with one soulful eye in each, and long
threads or dendrites emerging from them and flowing
between the various images and words near them,
connecting some with others, and calling attention
to items I particularly liked. These constructions,
being small in themselves and economical of paint, yet
spread over a wide area, proved more durable than many
of the more forthright designs. I had sneaked up,
not on virtue, but endurance, if not immortality.
Draughtsmans Congress: Neuron
Needless to say, quite a few people chose to project
their egos (What? Egotistical artists?) or business
interests, and wrote their names, web sites, comments
and slogans on the walls. A rather dignified
gentlemen whose long white hair testified to his
age and indefatigable hipness inscribed a large,
crude obscenity in brilliant red across a ghostly
Lenin, revisiting perhaps some long-gone junior
high of the mind. As one can see in the pictures,
some of this work was quite grandiose. Typically,
most of it soon got decorated or obscured, just as in
graffiti country. (Actual graffiti writers may have
participated, but as spray cans were not permitted,
they would have been unable to employ their tools of
choice, and the distinctive styles of their world
were not much in evidence. I think, though, that
most hard-core graffitists would have found the scene
a bit tame.)
One of the Spring Studio group, Magic (see below), was not
a primarily a painter or draughtsman here but a model.
Nearly nude, he posed in many interesting and rather
difficult postures (he is very good at this) until the
authorities intervened; it seems that 'performances',
at least by those not conventionally dressed, were
forbidden. Before that, my colleagues
painted aspects of him on the nearby wall and floor;
after all, we do Life Drawing. We may have been
frustrated in this, but at least, we had pushed the
sacred envelope and obtained the rewarding experience
of being told to stop doing something.
Some rather coherent works, recorded here, were not
overwritten or modified (much) during my stay. These included
an Africanish elephant, a portrait of Ah Weiwei, and a cat.
Ah Weiwei did acquire zombie eyes before the end of the
Draughtsmans Congress: Cat (artist unknown)
Draughtsmans Congress: Elephant (artist unknown)
As the afternoon declined, a man appeared playing
a French horn and wearing a cape bearing slogans
which questioned capitalism. It was about 5:30 p.m.
I took this to be a sign to depart, and departed,
although not before I suggested to the performer
that the horn might be modified to spray paint as
well as music and thus become part of the grand
work. He was amused but doubtful about the
overall effect of such a method, especially on
Draughtsmans Congress: Ah Weiwei with Zombie Eyes (see below)
On the whole, the event had the air of a children's
party more than some kind of serious engagement
between artists about collaboration and competition
as indicated in the announcement. Many of
the participants were probably not artists in a
professional or serious-amateur sense, so while the
experience of doing art may have been entertaining
and enlightening for them it was not tremendously
striking. Indeed, many successful events of this
sort have been held in public parks in New York City
with similar but more down-home purposes in mind.
The higher level of discourse proposed by the
'prospectus', the discussion and interaction between
art-committed practitioners, could not be achieved, at
least not within the limited compass of my brief witness.
An Afternoon at the Museum, or Pure Magic
by Minerva Durham
"Are you going to time me?" Magic (Paul Distefano)
asked me as we walked along Spring Street towards the
New Museum of Contemporary Art to participate in the
Draughtsman's Congress on the fourth floor. For over
two months now the public and groups assigned a time
slot, like us, had been painting and drawing on the
walls and floors of the fourth floor with any imagery
that they wanted, newcomers essentially obliterating
the work of previous participants. The project had
originated in Berlin, the idea of an avant-garde and
political Polish artist, Pavel Althamer, whose work
is on display in the Museum.
"Sorry, I didn't bring a timer. Do you mind
timing your poses yourself?" I asked.
"Can I do anything I want? Any length of
pose? Because I can try out lots of things that I
couldn't do if there is a time limit."
I hadn't told the Museum people that I was bringing
a model. Magic draws too, so he could participate
as artist or model if there were any objection. "I
didn't bring the dance strap," he said., "I'm
going to pose in black under-shorts instead."
Seventeen artists from Spring Studio met at the
reception desk and checked jackets and bags. We were
told that the person who was to greet us and take us
upstairs was too busy, so we were on our own. Easy
As we entered the room we were surrounded by color,
layers of paint everywhere on the walls and the floor.
Luca Mosca, Christa Pietrini, Harumi Osawa, Joseph
Schwarz, Anne Simmons, Serge Strosberg and Catrin
Treadwell put on paint-stained painters' coats and
suits provided by the Museum.
I saw right away that there were very few materials to
work with, although we had been promised "a great
range of materials available to work with and these
include: acrylic paint (range of colors), gouache,
watercolor, charcoal, charcoal pencils, crayons, oil
pastels, colored pencils, chalk, chalk pastels, many
kinds of pens and markers" and we had been told not
to bring any materials with us. All that was available
were about twenty pint-size containers of tempera
paint with thin worn brushes, mostly light colors. I
grabbed the only container with black paint that I
could see and a container of yellow. I have been a
socialist all of my life, but I found myself thinking
"Oh, so this is what socialism is really like. You
are promised that you will be provided for and then
you are left to fend for yourself and to make do,
ill-equipped." But I cheered up as Magic stripped to
shorts and began a continuous performance of acrobatic
poses of varying lengths that lasted well over an
hour. I painted on the floor a few feet away from
him. Soon Chuck Connelly and Audrey Cohn-Ganz joined
me on the floor and we were all transported to Degas'
"magic circle" that artists inhabit. (You are either
in the circle or outside of it.)
THE FOURTH FLOOR (Photo: Audrey Ganz) The pea-green thing is the elevator.
Serge had brought a photo of Ai Weiwei to copy. He
painted Ai Weiwei‘s face in black and white a little
larger than life with his shoulders held up and out in
a crucifixion pose. "Is this OK to do?" he asked
me. "Yes, it's beautiful," I answered. He was
running out of black paint. There was no more black
paint to be had because so many people had shown
up in the morning, and the Museum enforced a daily
quota on supplies. I gave him the small amount of
black that I had left.
MAGIC POSING (photo: Gary Katz)
MAGIC POSING (photo: Gary Katz)
Luca used the light colors to good advantage making
a Zen Batman.
SERGE STROSBERG WITH HIS PAINTING OF AI WEIWEI (Photo: Gary Katz)
Around 3:30, the head of Security for the Museum
came on his rounds, and seeing Magic in shorts
demanded that he get completely dressed. I talked
with Security and politely asked how many complaints
had been made, and if there was a written record of
the complaints and if the Museum administrators had
been alerted and if they had made the decision to
stop Magic from posing. He was insistent that Magic
get dressed. I said to Security that we were all very
happy to have had at least an hour and a half in the
presence of the most beautiful thing in the world:
a young acrobat of pure heart in motion, full of
love and compassion. (Think kouros and the murals in
Knossos.) Then I said, "Put your clothes on, Magic,
as the man insists."
LUCA MOSCAS ZEN BATMAN (Photo: Gary Katz)
I sat down next to Magic. ""But I had lots more
to do. I didn't want to stop. I could have gone on
much longer." A true and pure performer.
Photo: Gary Katz. NOTE the scroll with lots of little black figures on the wall at top, seeming to touch the ladder, is by Anne Simmons.
All along Charles Johnson was taking thousands of
photos. I will send some of his masterpieces after
we download them.
Here is a group photo of most of Spring Studio's
Photo: Anne Simmons via a stranger. ARTISTS NOT SHOWN NOR MENTIONED IN THE TEXT ARE Peter Allen, Joe DiNapoli, Kenny Ross, Phoenix, Elizabeth Hellman, Sara Edkins
More at http://minervagoesnew.lucamosca.com/....