Drawing on History: The National Drawing Invitational: A Retrospective Exhibition

Exhibition Website

Apr 11 2017 - Sep 24 2017

Arkansas Arts Center

Little Rock, AR

The Arkansas Arts Center presents an exhibition featuring drawings acquired from the works of artists featured in past National Drawing Invitational (NDI) exhibitions. Since its inception in 1986, the National Drawing Invitational has contributed to the rise of drawing as a major medium in contemporary art by stimulating the making and collecting of American drawing. The most innovative, important and promising artists working in the medium of drawing have been invited to exhibit, and the exhibition has gathered top-quality graphic works by an impressive array of American artists for whom drawing is a key creative avenue. These artists work all over the country – with approaches to art that range from photo-realism to total abstraction. 

Drawing on History features 38 works from the Arkansas Arts Center Collection that look back at this distinguished history of exhibiting drawings. Acquisitions from these exhibitions keep the Arts Center’s collection on the cutting edge of American graphic art.

“Over the last 30 years, the National Drawing Invitational has been – and will continue to be – instrumental in shaping the collections and exhibitions at the Arkansas Arts Center,” said Ann Prentice Wagner, Arkansas Arts Center Curator of Drawings. “This is an opportune moment to evaluate the NDI’s contribution, as the Arts Center prepares for major renovations that will take it into the future."

Artists featured in the 12 previous NDI exhibitions include established greats of the field, as well as promising young artists. Wayne Thiebaud, Whitfield Lovell, Robert Cottingham, Enrique Chagoya, and Yvonne Jacquette are some of the best-known names from previous NDI exhibitions. The exhibition will also include drawings by some lesser-known, but equally extraordinary artists, such as Tim Lowly and Robert Brawley.

As the National Drawing Invitational helped to shape the careers of featured artists, those artists transformed the Arts Center’s own collections and exhibitions. John Himmelfarb’s work was featured in the second NDI in 1988; the Arkansas Arts Center Collection now boasts 10 of his works, the latest acquired in 2012. A 2004 NDI artist, leading metal point creator and teacher, Susan Schwalb, will be featured in a 2018 solo exhibition at the Arts Center.

Since the 1970s, drawing has been a major focus of collecting for the Arkansas Arts Center. Former Executive Director and Chief Curator, the late Townsend Wolfe, himself an artist and art teacher, saw that the Arts Center could make major contributions by concentrating on collecting and exhibiting the often-neglected medium of drawing. Wolfe traveled around the country, studying all sorts of drawings and meeting the artists who made them. Then he invited exciting drawing artists to enter the National Drawing Invitational, looking to both traditional artists of excellence and modernist trailblazers who defined the role of the medium. The curators who have followed Wolfe have continued the tradition

Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website

  • Works on Paper
  • American
  • Various artists

Exhibition Venues & Dates