Dieter Roth (1930–1998) was one of the great sensualists of the twentieth century and among the era’s most important printmakers. He worked prolifically across a number of mediums and with a set of standards unlike any of his peers. Roth’s art could be equally conceptual and carnal; he saw boundaries as bridges and embraced artistic strategies others would never consider. Though he developed exceptional technical skills during his lifetime, perfection was never an end goal; a relentlessly driving enthusiasm for experimentation was the genesis of Roth’s greatest work.
Wait, Later This Will Be Nothing: Editions by Dieter Roth, on view at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, offers a thematic approach to appreciating Roth’s contribution to the field of printmaking. Organized by Sarah Suzuki, an associate curator in the department of prints and illustrated books, the exhibition breaks down into five sections and spans roughly twenty years. It begins with examples of his earliest book experiments from the late fifties and winds its way to the mid seventies when Roth began making box sets of his books and developing trolleys to carry the collection. Though there could always be more room to spread out and examine book works as expansive as Roth’s, the exhibition has left little out. All of Roth’s major print-oriented artworks are present.
Roth loved making books and was among the first to radically expand the idea of what a book could be. “I make art only to support my habit,” he once commented, “which is to write and publish books.” Though as evidenced by the work on view, Roth favored a pretty liberal definition of “writing.” With the exception of his volumes of poetry—all titled Shit—there is hardly a complete sentence to be found in two decades worth of book making, and even here there aren’t many. This doesn’t come as a surprise; right from the start Roth does his best to divorce language from meaning with a brand of concrete poetry that is nearly non-linguistic.
A few weeks ago I traveled from Chicago to New York to sit on a College Art Association (CAA) Southern Graphics Council International affiliate panel organized by Printeresting.org co-founder Jason Urban on the subject of “Reproducing Authenticity.” Three fellow print enthusiasts (Beauvais Lyons, Lauren van Haaften-Schick, and Lisa Bulawsky) and I examined the evolution of printmaking in the twenty-first century, and attempted to grapple with ”the visual language of print as a signifier of authenticity and the complex relationship of real printed matter to its life in the virtual world.”
For those of you who didn’t make it to CAA this year, here are some excerpts from my paper titled Studio, Museum, Screen: Print & the Virtual, Authentic Image—thoughts on the intersections of printmaking and the digital image, and the subsequent constructions of an authentic image online. You can take a peek at a wide range of supporting images in my slideshow here.
A digital image of a work of art is composed of three things: a collection of mathematical data; a signifier (or placeholder) for a real, physical object; and a signifier for (or reminder of) the artist who has created that object. For the viewer, digital images act as the point of connection between object and artist, yet a backlit collection of data on the screen lacks presence. The result is an unconscious hunger for substance, truth, the genuine: a desire for what some might call authenticity.
This phenomenon was anticipated by the philosopher Walter Benjamin in his seminal essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1936), in which he expressed his concern that in the modern age of mechanical reproduction, the work of art would lose its “authenticity” or “aura” (he uses these two terms almost interchangeably). His point is equally valid in today’s virtual environment: the authenticity/aura of the work of art is what suffers in the age of digital reproduction.
So, what exactly is meant by the term “authenticity” in this revisionist context? There are many variations on the word—for instance, we often assume authenticity (or authenticating) to come from an institutional, authoritative source. To simplify, the basic concept of authenticity (as set forth in the Oxford English Dictionary) is that someone holds the opinion that another person or thing is “entitled to acceptance.”
Why is this even worth discussing? Well, for one, we tend to throw the word authenticity around quite a lot. “Authenticity” today is a buzzword, a false word that means a subjective kind of truth. When we call something authentic (another person, for instance, or a product), that judgment lies just as much in the person making the claim, as it does in the object. We seem to use the word to outwardly legitimize the power of our individual opinions.
Printmaking fosters a sense of community and it thrives in spaces where dedicated artists come together to share traditions and inspire innovations. For nearly thirty years, Manhattan Graphics Center has provided printmakers, both new and advanced, with a welcoming environment where knowledge is nurtured and collaboration is possible. The artists who gather here to learn and practice printmaking come from diverse backgrounds and have distinct voices, and together they embody the vitality of the city that this printshop calls home.
Manhattan Graphics Center was organized as a democratic and independent workshop. It was founded in 1986 by twenty artists and teachers who worked at the Pratt Graphics Center in Midtown Manhattan. When Pratt Institute announced that they were selling this building, the group banded together and dedicated time, money and materials to preserve a printshop in the borough. One of the most remarkable aspects of Manhattan Graphics Center is that it is entirely run by artists on a volunteer basis. The daily operation of the printshop is managed by keyholders, who donate their time in return for use of the facilities. And the programs they offer (classes and workshops, lectures, exhibitions) are guided by a board of directors upon the recommendations of the Center’s members. In 2012, after over twenty years of being located downtown, the printshop moved to 250 West 40th Street, the heart of the burgeoning art scene in the Fashion District.
One of the best introductions one can have to Manhattan Graphics Center is through their classes, taught by experienced printmakers that provide instruction and inspiration in a variety of techniques, from traditional to experimental. Each of the instructors brings a different outlook to teaching; course offerings range from screenprint and lithography to collagraph and monotype. Classes on two of the earliest forms of printmaking, intaglio and woodcut, demonstrate the potential of these centuries-old techniques for contemporary artists.
Mandy Keifetz is a finishing school drop-out. She joins the blog this month as a guest writer for Ink. Keifetz’s work has appeared in the Massachusetts Review, Brooklyn Rail, .Cent, Penthouse, Vogue, Review of Contemporary Fiction, and many other publications. Entertainment Weekly called her first novel, Corrido, “an intoxicating cocktail of sex and death.” Her second novel, Flea Circus: A Brief Bestiary of Grief, won the AWP Fiction Prize in 2010, selected by Francine Prose, and was published by New Issues. The novel was a finalist in the 2011 Grub Street National Book Prize and was given Honorable Mention. She was a Fellow with the New York Foundation for the Arts in 2002, and her plays have been staged in London, Cambridge, Montréal, Oslo, and New York. She is an occasional MFA dissertation defense panelist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a jurist for the Scholastic Achievement Awards.
Leela Corman studied art at the Massachusetts College of Art. Her first book Queen’s Day earned her a Xeric Award in 1999. Her latest, Unterzakhna, a turn-of-the-previous-century tale of Jewish sisters living on New York’s Lower East Side, was published by Schocken/Pantheon. It has been called the lovechild of Los. Bros. Hernandez and Isaac Bashevis Singer but in its grittiness, narratively and texturally, I see more of Max Beckmann. Corman is also an accomplished bellydancer and bellydance instructor. She and her husband, Tom Hart, are the founders of The Sequential Arts Workshop, a non-profit organization offering instruction in comic art, graphic novels and visual storytelling in Gainesville, Florida.
Unterzakhn is beautifully shot through with Galitzianer Yiddish. The title itself means underwear, a reference to both the iconic image of fluttering underthings on clothesline strung between Old Law tenements, and, one is given to assume, the constraints on reproductive freedom which women of the protagonists era suffered. For the purposes of this interview, you may assume that pritze means both actual prostitute and sexually aware woman; that kurve means the same; that both akusherke and bobbe mean something like lady parts doctor. Ongeblussen is something like a narcissistic bloviator and nar a bit more like systemically disengaged from the serious. And altekacher is, more or less, old fart, but said with affection.
Katsutoshi Yuasa’s first solo exhibition in the US (at the ISE Cultural Foundation, New York, through January 4) demonstrates an utterly fresh approach to relief printing, grounded in the wider dialogue of contemporary art and culture. The artist’s meticulous translations of photographs into woodcut offer meditations on humankind’s relationship the natural world, while simultaneously provoking questions of cultural amnesia, memory, and perception. His ongoing Pseudo Mythology series, which explores both natural and man-made disasters/forces, feels particularly relevant in the wake of recent events in the US and Japan.
Yuasa’s source photographs range from the mundane (trees) to the sensational (an overturned tanker) and are culled from his own digital camera as well as the internet. Through the process of converting these images to black-and-white, enlarging, transferring, carving, and finally printing the block in a single tone, Yuasa transforms them from the “fact” of a snapshot into a more subjective representation of how such images are understood and processed by the mind. The final product is recognizable but distorted and flattened, as if through a haze. The works, which range in scale from medium to outsized, are mounted directly to the wall without mediation between viewer and sheet. This allows for a total immersion in the image, as well as a palpable immediacy to the pristinely printed surface, calling attention to its illusionistic qualities.
In 1959, young Kathan Brown stepped off of a freighter in San Francisco with an antique intaglio press and expert printing skills to match. Freshly trained in the French hand-wiping technique of intaglio printing (which, she frequently notes, differs in its precision from the expressive approach then dominating American color etching) at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London, Brown possessed tireless dedication to her chosen medium. She remains today a self-proclaimed “proselytizer for etching” (e-mail interview) and this passion has guided both her professional activities as well as that of her press. It also transformed the history of intaglio printmaking.
The art scene in the Bay Area was small but robust when she opened Crown Point for business in a Richmond storefront in 1962. In addition to a handful of professional museums and galleries, there were a number of important artists on faculty at the newly renamed San Francisco Art Institute (formerly the California School of Fine Arts); among the most prominent of these was Richard Diebenkorn. As luck would have it, he was looking for a technique that could provide a fresh perspective to his work and decided to further explore drypoint, a medium in which he had previously dabbled. He had heard about Crown Point’s weekly life drawing sessions, where participants drew directly on a metal plate with a needle, and called Brown to join the group. The printing did not interest him (it was a task he happily assigned to Brown), but the challenge of working on the reflective and unwieldy surface did. After awhile, Brown offered some prepared plates for his use in the studio. The result was the press’s first publication, 41 Etchings Drypoints, issued in 1965 in an edition of 25, which began a long relationship between printer and painter that endured nearly three decades until Diebenkorn’s death, producing some of the most astounding color aquatints of our time, including Large Bright Blue, 1980, Green, 1986, and High Green, versions I and II, 1992.
[Ed. note: Some of the dates and events of the IFPDA print fair were rescheduled due to effects of post-tropical superstorm Sandy. See here for details: http://www.ifpda.org/content/. The E|AB Fair was initially canceled but has been rescheduled for January 23-27, 2013, in a new location: The Altman Building, 135 West 18th Street, New York, between 6th and 7th Aves. For further detail, see http://www.eabfair.com/]
One week per year, around the beginning of November, New York becomes editions heaven. The faithful (curators, collectors, professors, artists, critics, printers, publishers, dealers, scholars, and students) and the curious throng to the city to revel in a sea of riches and learn what’s new in the field. Publishers and dealers from all over the world, as well as auction houses around the city, proffer prints and multiples of every medium, size, shape, rarity, historical period, cultural tradition, and budget. Galleries, museums, and exhibition spaces organize outstanding exhibitions in the medium. Receptions, breakfasts, and parties are thrown. Events and talks range from the serious to the wacky – milestones in scholarship are celebrated, trends are analyzed, recent publishing projects are discussed by artists and printers, techniques are demonstrated, and this year, you can even get your hair cut in classic punk style.
High political season is underway with a particular sense of urgency this year, and it seems that nearly every aspect of American culture has joined in the debate. In keeping with a historical trend that began during the Enlightenment, prints are playing a role in today’s political arguments as a means of disseminating the views of artists and rallying the people. Recent releases of note are the Occuprint Portfolio 2012 and Artists for Obama 2012. Both are fundraisers to support their eponymous causes: the former was issued earlier this year through the Booklyn Artists Alliance–the latter debuted last night at Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles and will also be presented in its New York gallery in Chelsea later this month.
While these two print portfolios are both political in their aims, other similarities are few. The facture and content of Occuprint, as may be anticipated, reflects the values and concerns of the grass-roots Occupy Movement that spawned it. Issued in an edition of 100 with a net fundraising goal of approximately $30,000, the thirty screenprints it contains were selected from the thousands of submissions that have been posted for free download on the Occuprint.org website. Since last fall, these have been sent in by relatively unknown designers from all over the world in support of the various political aims that have sprung from the Occupy Movement, including We are the 99%, the ballooning costs of higher education, the subprime mortgage crisis, as well as May Day. The portfolio’s production was supported by pre-publication sales to twenty public institutions, including a number of top universities, and proceeds benefit the activities of Occuprint.org, a non-profit affinity group that operates independently of the Occupy Movement.
Printeresting.org came on the scene in 2008 as a breath of sorely needed fresh air for printmaking enthusiasts. Its motto: “The thinking person’s favorite online resource for interesting printmaking miscellany.” Indeed, any and everything to do with this medium is covered in frequent posts to the website, a majority of which are written by its three founders, Amze Emmons, R.L. Tillman, and Jason Urban, who are also artists, curators, critics, and professors. The three of them recently agreed to answer a few questions on what makes them – and the website – tick.
Sarah Kirk Hanley: The three of you met at the famed University of Iowa Printmaking program, from which you each received your MFA in 2002. What is it about the place that inspires such devotion to the medium? Do you think it’s an egg or a chicken thing?
Iowa has a long print tradition going back to Mauricio Lasansky. At the time we chanced into one of its largest classes of graduate printmakers in decades. Along with all of our peers, we were crammed together into a ramshackle rabbit warren of studio spaces. This made for a lively environment that was competitive but also supportive. As for why the joint continues to generate such interest, at this point the relationship is cyclical, and probably somewhat self-sustaining. There are a lot of chickens willing to go to Iowa, and they’re probably looking for the egg – or an omelet.
Fans of contemporary paper-based art are indulged with an especially fine and varied dining experience this spring and summer in New York. Groups shows at The Museum of Modern Art, The International Print Center New York, The Lower East Side Printshop, Susan Inglett Gallery, Larissa Goldston Gallery, and Christopher Henry Gallery, among others, offer opportunities to relish a wide range of outstanding examples of both editioned and unique works on paper (both of-the-moment and historical), while solo exhibitions for Richard Diebenkorn, Nicole Eisenman, Shepard Fairey, and Diane Victor showcase the exceptional talents of these four artists in the realm of prints. As Ink goes to press, three of these exhibitions have closed (Diebenkorn, Eisenman, Victor), but there is still time to experience the others (though one must move at lightning speed to catch a few of them, closing today or over the weekend).
Richard Diebenkorn: Prints 1961-1992 at Greenberg Van Doren Gallery (closed June 29), was an exceedingly rare treat of the highest order. Organized to complement a traveling exhibition of his Ocean Park series that is currently on view at the Corcoran Gallery of Art through September 23 (its final venue), this carefully curated exhibition showcased a selection of pristine impressions from the artist’s estate. The visitor was greeted with a small group of rarely-exhibited lithographs from the artist’s figurative period of the sixties (many can be seen here). Seated Woman, 1968, is among the most stunning and elegant figurative images of the Twentieth Century. The larger space of the gallery was a selection of Ocean Park Series prints, most of which were printed at Crown Point Press. In her essay for the exhibition catalogue, CPP founder and master printer Kathan Brown, who had a long and fruitful relationship with the artist, states these prints are “the most complex and subtle use of color aquaint that I know of by any artist at any time in history” – a profound statement from one who has dedicated her life to that medium. (If you missed it, a handful of the same prints are on view in the exhibition at the Corcoran.)