Collection in Focus: Wangechi Mutu and Juan Gris

The Morgan has been collecting Modern and Contemporary Drawings for almost 20 years. Isabelle Dervaux, Acquavella Curator of Modern and Contemporary Drawings provides a glimpse into the collection by taking a closer look at two drawings by Juan Gris and Wangechi Mutu.

Juan Gris' drawing is a study for "Man in the Café", a large painting in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. A second drawing of the man's head is in the collection Basil Goulandris, Lausanne. Because of its multiple traces of erasure - an indication of Gris's intensive process of trial and error - the Thaw drawing must have preceded the one in Lausanne, which is dated August 1912 and closely resembles the corresponding section of the painting. The dislocation and fragmentation of the face into geometric planes are typical of Gris's Cubism, which differs from that of Braque and Picasso by placing a greater emphasis on structure. Here Gris's cerebral method is relieved by comical overtones reminiscent of the caricatures he created earlier in his career in order to make a living.

Wangechi Mutu established her reputation in the early 2000s with large-scale, colorful works on paper combining painting and collage. At once voluptuous and frightening, her hybrid figures, part human, part animal, plant, and machine address issues of gender, race, and postcolonial politics. With its mix of references to African cultural traditions, high fashion, and science fiction Mutuʼs work has been related to the Afro-futurist aesthetic. This sheet belongs to a group of watercolors Mutu made following her return to Kenya after living for nearly twenty years in New York. While inspired by her country's luscious flora, the image also recalls Mutu's collages as parts of the plant evoke a female body, an egg, and a cowry shell - a potent symbol in African culture.