One Of Soho's Best Kept Art Secrets


While all art begins, either literally or figuratively, at “the drawing board,” sometimes that’s also where it ends. As its name suggests, The Drawing Center, an alternative museum space in SoHo, focuses solely on exhibiting and celebrating works on paper. And though that may not be the flashiest or most lucrative notion, as the art world solidifies its “bigger is better” mentality – bigger sculptures, bigger spectacles, bigger price tags – The Drawing Room remains a vital institution, not to mention the only of its kind in America.

Fittingly, The Drawing Center had humble beginnings. It was founded in 1977, in a converted warehouse on Greene Street by Martha Beck, a curator who felt drawings were underrepresented at the city’s museums (she should know – she was formerly the assistant curator of drawings at the Museum of Modern Art). Because it was a nonprofit exhibition space, the unassuming gallery was technically a museum, however, its success was unprecedented. Thanks to early exhibits that included works by the likes of Rodin, Picasso, Matisse, Bernini and a phenomenal retrospective of Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi’s sketches, Becks’s museum attracted over 125,000 visitors in its first year, not to mention rave reviews from the city’s toughest critics.

Since it moved to its current space on Wooster Street, The Drawing Center has built upon its late founder’s vision, exhibiting works by masters of bygone years as well as the world’s most celebrated contemporary artists – Sterling Ruby, Rirkrit Tiravanija and Rashid Johnson, to name but a few. And in addition to its exceptional programming, the space offers gallery talks, panels and workshops to further engage the public in its under-celebrated medium.

Though the museum has recently expanded its programming to include performance and animation, at its core remains drawing, and its ability to remain relevant in today’s overcrowded art world is a testament to drawing’s importance. Pencil on paper offers us something sculpture, video or even painting cannot. It is our closest link to the artist – a direct pathway from the paper to their hand to their brain. To visit the drawing room is to gain a better understanding of the artist.

When you peel back the layers of The Drawing Center, a museum so humble it doesn’t even put the word “museum” in its name, it comes as little surprise that it is regarded alongside America’s flashiest, most famous art institutions. The fact that it sits quietly in our backyard makes it all the more remarkable.

The Drawing Center | 35 Wooster Street, New York NY 10013 | (212) 219-2166

Words by Allyson Shiffman