• [Museum of Fine Arts]
Museum of Fine Arts
Hume's Evidence
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, USA, 2002

Curated by Atopia Projects

Publication: forthcoming

Mies Houston Draw
Alan Johnston
Being asked to make a wall drawing in the Mies van der Rohe designed Caroline Wiess Law building of the Museum of Fine Art, in Houston was both a continuity and a culmination of a series of engagements and dialogues in my work, and a challenge fitting the nature of the creation of a much admired definer of architectural clarity. The delivered form was a large drawing in pencil consistent with recent developments in other situations, among these are a series of works made at the Colnagi Haus, Riehen, Basel, and other companion museum pieces in for example, The Centre of Contemporary Art Osaka, The Tate, and Safn, Reykjavik. The drawing was formed within the full perimeter of the wall itself, it has an almost central division creating a focal tension where finding the slight ambivalence is heightened in a seeking for a symmetry in Mies’s classical structure.
Hume's Evidence
Gavin Morrison
A synergy of idea and form provides the conceptual underpinning for Alan Johnston's wall drawing in the Mies van der Rohe designed Caroline Law building at the MFAH. Johnston's wall drawings are rigorously site-specific, avoiding aesthetic rhetoric by relating and furthering the spatial and cultural specificities of architectural form. Even in their totality these drawings can be easily missed; their shadow-like presence, composed through a progressive accumulation of faint rhythmical lines, engenders an ambivalence in gesture and unannounced presence that defies the casual gaze. The wall drawings appear like a glyph or writing where intelligibility is usurped by a proliferation of marks. The drawings thereby record not only a human presence but also a passage of time that amasses into geometric volumes that typically encircle a void. The drawings often take the shape of a frame upon the wall. This framing of a material "nothing" may be considered a proposition that is an antecedent to cultural reflexivity.
Alan Johnston Draw - Mies Van De Rohe Museum of Fine Art Houston
Joseph Mascheck

The Bauhaus, of which Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was the last director, showed itself constitutionally ill at ease with painting as the department of spiritual value in its wish to put that individualist art to social work with mural painting. As an abstract painter, Alan Johnston has been doing penciled murals which invert the usual relation of bounding edge to “content” in drawing by building up pliant bands of countless hand-drawn strokes as framing structures on the wall. His installation in homage to Mies at the great architect’s Cullinan Hall (1958) of the Museum of Fine Arts at Houston, Texas, defines, by mutely surrounding, a pair of wide rectangles, inspired by the great Miesian plate-glass windows. The piece recalls a vivid inversion in drawing by Mies himself: the photo-collage study for the Resor House, in which the very Rocky Mountains lend their sublimity to a house imagined only as slicing ever so thinly through the view with its slim Miesian piers.

Stimulated by a thought of Chesterton,* that a framing border immediately makes any stretch of landscape meaningful, the Russian formalist semiotician Boris Uspensky wrote that apprehending the world, as a sign system requires “designate its borders”.* Here, however, is a pair non-frames, of sorts, “blind” windows perhaps, architecturally speaking, except not architectural but drawn, as if reflecting great glass plates, with we know not what view, opposite. Precisely as drawing, this is also the opposite of a Karin Sander mural making a certain expanse of wall manifest as a white gloss, which is none other than paint—but just as withdrawn from muralistic imposition.

Today the term minimalism is misused for almost anything not rhetorical; but even original Bauhaus constructivism was not minimalist, and Mies, whether our undialectical materialists like it or not, was more transcendental than that. What really is Miesian about Johnston’s seeming plain-Jane empty double frame? Without at all vying with Mies’s spatial grandeur, Johnston picks up as a painter on Mies’s subtle vigilance in avoiding all gratuitous impingement on even the most normal rectangular volume. So he manages to produce not mere understatement but something rarer, the aesthetic homage that isn’t at all a caricature.

*In G.K. Chesterton The Return of Don Quixote (London: Chatto & Windus 1927)
*Boris Uspensky A Poetics of Composition trans. V. Zavarin & S. Wittig (Berkeley: University of California, 1973)
Houston 2002
Houston 2002