ICA's new exhibition 'Keep Your Timber Limber' reminds us how artists have been at forefront of social and political change

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The group show explores how artists from the 1940s to the present day have used drawing to address ideas critical to their time, such as sexuality and fundamental social change.

Keep Your Timber Limber – the title of the upcoming exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) – is taken directly from an artwork by American artist Judith Bernstein, whose inclusion in the show takes the form of a huge wall drawing of a male phallus with a strategically positioned flag-pole bearing the Star-Spangled Banner.

Bernstein's energetic drawing recalls her longstanding fascination with male lavatory graffiti, of the more puerile and indecent variety, and anti-Vietnam protests of the late-1960s – a time when the artist was producing paintings with slogans such as "Jackie Kennedy Sucks John John".

From mid-June through to September, Bernstein's striking work features as part of a group show exploring how artists from the 1940s to the present day have used drawing to address ideas critical to their time, such as sexuality and fundamental social change. These are artists who have pushed the boundaries of acceptability using a medium more often associated with genteel summer shows.

Much of the work – including a savage image by the German artist George Grosz of 1940s Berlin – has been subject to censorship and continues to raise eyebrows. But while these works are often sexually graphic, they are serious in intention. Tom of Finland's drawings were an important beacon for homosexual men in the 1950s and 60s and played a key role in popularising gay culture.

Viewed alongside the work of Tom of Finland, Bernstein's explicit wall drawing may invite comparison with a series of nude portraits of Vivienne Westwood by renowned German photographer Juergen Teller, whose recent exhibition proved to be one of the most popular ever held at the ICA. These intimate images of Westwood reclining on a chaise longue were deliberately given pride of place to evoke memories of a similarly resplendent figure, that of British artist Cosey Fanni Tutti, who was once photographed in a similar repose for a flyer advertising the ICA's Prostitution exhibition of 1976. The subsequent media furore surrounding this particular show, which heralded the arrival of punk, led to cries for the ICA to be permanently closed.

As a rule of thumb, it has never been the ICA's intention to be shocking merely for the sake of it, which is just as true now as it was at the time of the infamous Chapman brothers exhibition, or Gerhard Richter's remarkable exhibition 18 Oktober 1977, featuring images of the Baader-Meinhof group, or when Hermann Nitsch embarked on a performance using animal parts on the road outside. In 1948 the ICA exhibited what was then considered to be one of the most shocking art works of all time, Pablo Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon.

Nor does the ICA seek high audience figures over artistic integrity; there are countless examples of the ICA having helped younger artists take that all-important first step, or having promoted other artists at a time when they've been overlooked. Our interest remains to provoke and encourage our visitors to see contemporary art and culture as a living entity, one that is in a constant state of flux and vital to our lives.

What we're seeking to enable is an active engagement in the arts where you can easily spend a day at the ICA attending our talks, cinema, artist's film programme, exhibitions, performances, or simply availing yourself of a centrally located bar, café and internet service – which has become increasingly popular with ICA members and visitors alike. The ICA has never been a museum. It remains a space founded by artists for artists, and is best experienced in this spirit.

On the face of it, Keep Your Timber Limber is a works-on-paper show – an exhibition about drawing, which some may consider less relevant given recent excitements about shinier and more lavish art works. However, viewed through the ICA lens, the show and the drawings contained within should defy expectations. Included in the show are the feminist-inspired drawings of Margaret Harrison, who was recently awarded the Northern Art Prize; the provocative Biro drawings of London-based artist Cary Kwok; and the work of Marlene McCarty, who emerged from Aids activism to produce large ballpoint drawings exploring the darker side of human behavior.

Curated by Sarah McCrory, the exhibition touches on a range of sexual, social and political issues as expressed through the seemingly marginalised medium of drawing. I say this recalling my own experience at art school, where drawing was often viewed as a more preparatory form of activity – as though it were on the road to something greater, such as painting, rather than an end in itself. Thankfully, views on the importance of works on paper are changing.

If drawing is indeed viewed as a poor cousin to painting and sculpture, spare a thought for its much neglected sub-genres, such as the largely ignored world of fashion illustration, as represented in the exhibition by Antonio Lopez, whose stunning drawings encapsulate the disco era and are only now gaining serious art-world attention. For comic-book illustrations, look no further than the homoerotic cartoons of Mike Kuchar, whose drawings have only recently come into the light after two decades.

Keep Your Timber Limber promises to be a compelling new exhibition, but, most important of all, I hope it goes a long way toward underlining the power of the marginal, and how such a seemingly innocent practice as drawing can give rise to the most profound cultural shifts.

Keep Your Timber Limber (Works on Paper), ICA, London SW1 (www.ica.org.uk) 19 June to 8 September

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl

First look at Oscar winner as transgender artistfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month

TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel

film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island

Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey


Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower