How to draw politically?

Lecture by Christian Rattemeyer, Associate Curator of Drawings at MoMA

Christian Rattemeyer

What does a drawing want?
(or how to draw politically?)

“Often it is through the simplest of gestures such as writing and drawing that the most intimate aspects of an artist’s life come to the fore. Sometimes these gestures are the result of personal experience, sometimes simply a response to what goes on around oneself. But all of them assert one’s existence in the world.” - Chistian Rattemeyer

In 1970, Japanese artist On Kawara sent a series of telegrams to his Dutch gallerist, proclaiming “I am still alive”. The simplicity of the message and the austerity of the medium suggest the revelation of a profound truth, but one stripped of its immediate specificity. In 1976, Turkish artist Cengiz Çekil stamped a page in his small diary for two months each night before going to bed with the letters “I am still alive today.” Although almost identical in wording to Kawara’s, Çekil’s gesture was a response to the increasing military tension in Turkey during these years and functions more like a private talisman of survival then as a conceptual gesture of existence.

These are the first few lines approaching the exhibition “I am Still Alive: Politics and Everyday Life in Contemporary Drawing” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2011 curated by Christian Rattemeyer, The Harvey S. Shipley Miller Associate Curator of Drawings at the MoMA.

Beirut invited Rattemeyer to expand on the question What does a drawing want? reflecting on the political dimension of contemporary drawing – or how to draw politically – based on his practice and taking “I am Still Alive” as a point of departure.


Christian Rattemeyer is the Harvey S. Shipley Miller Associate Curator of Drawings at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Prior to that he was a curator of Artists Space in New York. He has worked as a freelance writer and critic in New York and as communications editor for Documenta 11. He founded and co-directed OSMOS, an independent project space in Berlin, and he has curated film and architecture festivals in Berlin, Los Angeles, London, and New York. He contributes regularly to art magazines such as Parkett, Texte zur Kunst, Artforum, and Art Papers, and he has published many catalog essays on contemporary art. He holds an MA from the Free University of Berlin and is a PhD candidate at Columbia University.