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Princeton University Art Museum acquires drawings by architect Michael Graves

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Michael Graves (American, 1934–2015). San Pietro in Frascati, 1961. Brown ink and wash on paper, 69.2 × 104.8 cm. All artwork. Source: Estate of Michael Graves via the Princeton University Art Museum.
Drawing by Michael Graves. San Pietro in Frascati, 1961. Brown ink and wash on paper. Image from the Estate of Michael Graves via the Princeton University Art Museum.

The Princeton University Art Museum has acquired almost 5,000 drawings by Princeton architect and designer Michael Graves, who died in 2015.

James Steward, the director of the Princeton University Art Museum, said the drawings, which come to the museum from Graves’s estate, span the entire range of his subject matter and design concerns, and will serve as an important resource for researchers, designers and museum audiences.

“We are pleased to be able to preserve and share these important drawings, which document numerous projects and reflect Michael Graves’s manifold interests and talents, here at the museum, where he was known as family, and with our global audiences,” Steward said.

Graves is known worldwide for his innovative postmodern design of a vast range of large-scale architectural projects, interiors, consumer products (including his famous Alessi “whistling bird” kettle for Target) and master plans for a global array of public and private clients. Graves also left his creative mark on the town of Princeton. He designed the Paul Robeson Center for the Arts on the corner of Witherspoon Street, which was completed in 2008. His former Princeton residence, The Warehouse, has been described by Steward as “Michael’s Monticello, the ongoing focus and forum for his innovation.” Like many 20th-century architects who designed furniture and household objects as well as homes and other buildings, Graves believed that good design should find its way into everyday life and be available for consumers at all price levels.

Michael Graves (American, 1934–2015). Denver Central Library, South Facade, 1993. Graphite and colored pencil on tracing paper, 40.6 × 68.6 cm. All artwork Estate of Michael Graves
Drawing by Michael Graves. Denver Central Library, South Facade, 1993. Graphite and colored pencil on tracing paper. Image from the Estate of Michael Graves via the Princeton University Art Museum.

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger called Graves “truly the most original voice in American architecture.” Graves founded his architecture practice in Princeton in 1964 and taught architecture at Princeton University for 39 years, retiring as the Robert Schirmer Professor of Architecture Emeritus in 2001.

A variety of materials including pen and ink, charcoal, graphite, colored pencil, watercolor and pastel were used for the drawings that Princeton has acquired. The collection includes drawings of historic monuments from his 1960s fellowship at the American Academy in Rome, pencil and ink referential drawings in sketchbooks, quick iterative design studies on yellow tracing paper, and meticulously colored building elevations. Together, the drawings in the collection form the visual archive of Graves’s work, revealing both his classical training and his commitment to draftsmanship – something Graves advocated for strongly in his teaching.

Michael Graves (American, 1934–2015). Church and Campanile, Rome, 1961. Ink pen and wash on paper, 27.50”h x 39.25”w. All artwork Estate of Michael Graves
Drawing by Michael Graves. Church and Campanile, Rome, 1961. Ink pen and wash on paper. Image from the Estate of Michael Graves via the Princeton University Art Museum.

In a 2012 opinion piece for The New York Times titled “Architecture and the Lost Art of Drawing,” Graves highlighted the importance of drawing in the design process. “Architecture cannot divorce itself from drawing, no matter how impressive the technology gets,” he wrote. “Drawings are not just end products: they are part of the thought process of architectural design. Drawings express the interaction of our minds, eyes, and hands.”

“As a prolific artist, architect and practitioner, Michael Graves considered drawing to be the foundation of his creative output,” said Sylvia Lavin, professor, history and theory of architecture at Princeton University and a leading scholar of Graves’s work. “This corpus of work that will now reside at the museum will facilitate rich research and teaching opportunities around Graves’s enormously robust legacy.”

Michael Graves (American, 1934–2015). Sketchbook drawing, 1979. Pen, colored pencil, and oil pastel on paper, 20.3 × 14 cm. All artwork Estate of Michael Graves
Drawing by Michael Graves, Sketchbook drawing, 1979. Pen, colored pencil, and oil pastel on paper. Image from the Estate of Michael Graves via the Princeton University Art Museum.

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

1 Comment

  1. Still can’t believe that Princeton rejected The Warehouse when Graves bequeathed it to them – it would have served as a fantastic space for the university’s architecture department and I really hope that this represents the first step in a reversal of that unfortunate decision

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