Zürich, Insights into "Learning to draw" @GraphischeSammlung @ETH

Guided tour with curator Michael Matile through the exhibition “Learning to draw” at the Graphische Sammlung ETH Zürich

January 15th, 2018

Dr. Michael Matile, longtime curator responsable for Old Master drawings and etchings at the Graphische Sammlung ETH Zürich, took us through his elaborated exhibition “Learning to draw” which he developed over the course of two semesters with 10 students of the Institute of Art History at the University of Zurich, and in collaboration with Zilla Leutenegger – a Zurich-based artist who mentors students in the Department of Architecture at the ETH Zurich. The show is the fourth and final exhibition in the 150-year jubilee series of Graphische Sammlung ETH Zürich.

To create an exhibition together with students is a challenging process. However, as the current presentation demonstrates, the effort pays off with most interesting outcomes. Also, needless to say such an endeavour plays a crucial role in preparing young researchers for a future museum career and is furthermore strengthening connections between academic art history and the museum. Unfortunately, rather few museums in Switzerland do realize exhibitions in collaboration with students. – The example of “Learning to draw” will hopefully foster this approach.

Some impressions and a pick on interesting topics

Theoretical frame

Michael Matile explains the theoretical frame in the entrance of the exhibition to members of AG Swiss: How do artists draw themselves in different epochs? The show is tackling this question by juxtaposing the dominant middle age topic of Saint Luke drawing the Virgin and other examples such as Dürer’s „Melancholia”.

Antiquity, but which one? Aka Laocoon and what arm?

The study of Antiquity was central, but which Antiquity did Renaissance artists want to see? When the antique sculpture of Laocoon was discovered in the Renaissance, one of its arms was missing. The first (and as it later turned out mistaken) reconstruction of that arm suggested a posture creating a dominant diagonal from bottom right to upper left. In doing so, the ideals of the time had produced their own interpretation of the antique work. The result was eagerly received both by contemporary and future artists, who promoted it with etchings.

How to communicate with an exhibition display?

Dürer’s original woodcut „Der Zeichner des liegenden Weibes“ (1525) from: Underweysung der Messung (1538) can be seen next to a spatial re-enactment of the tools in the exhibition, which enjoyed great popularity among visitors.

Ideals of academic learning and its critique

According to Michael Matile one of the best mezzotint works of the 18th century: Johann Jacobé after Martin Ferdinand Quadal, „Aktsaal der Wiener Akademie“, 1790, mezzotint and etching. Graphische Sammlung ETH Zürich.

An antipode to the study room pictured above is William Hogarth’s „Der Statuenhof“ from: The Analysis of Beauty (1753) in which Hogarth deconstructs the hierarchies of the genres by juxtaposing children’s drawings and studies of traditional columns which again are put in an analogy with a cactus.

Sketches from Jonas Umbach, a rather unknown artist which still seeks recognition and looking at different detail studies from Antonio Baratti.

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