All in at Western Exhibition’s “Drawing Biennial”

Drawing is a foundational art form, which may make it one of the most difficult to exhibit. The line between a schematic and a doodle and a cohesive final product can be, well, sketchy. Some of the pieces in Western Exhibition’s second “Drawing Biennial” are keenly aware of this flexibility and use it to their advantage.

Journie Cirdain’s Seattle to Salem straps viewers in for a road trip of a drawing (or, according to the artist, a drawing of a road trip). It’s the wondering and wandering of place after place, elevated backseat doodling lushly executed. Other works recall the uncomplicated allure of drawing through their materials—Jenny Crowe’s ballpoint pens and magic marker, Cathrine Whited’s colored pencils. 

Though nostalgia is tempting, there is too much skill here to reduce these pieces to back-of-the-classroom binder paper. From Ryan Travis Christian’s haunting graphite Going Back to the EU to Geoffrey Todd Smith’s intoxicating zig-zags, the show can’t be pinned by adjectives.

Rachel Niffenegger, Implant in the electric heady universe, 2022Courtesy Western Exhibitions

For every tightly controlled detail (Robyn O’Neil’s microscopic animal drawings) there is a loose flash of the hand (Lilli Carré’s inky root vegetables). For every faint sketch, a bold blotch. There are drawings on canvas and paper and panel, drawings on concrete, drawings on the floor. Maybe what this exhibition does best is demonstrate that the way to present a cohesive set of drawings is to forgo any attempt at cohesion at all. With such a talented cadre of artists, this show is all the better for it.

“The 2023 Western Exhibitions Drawing Biennial”Through 2/25: Tue-Sat noon-6 PM, Western Exhibitions, 1709 W. Chicago, 312-480-8390,

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