Sunday, August 31, 2008

The 66th Members' Exhibition of the American Color Print Society

While trying to sneak in some last minute summer reading before the September rush, I recently visited the main branch of the Philadelphia Free Library. While there, I took the opportunity – as anyone who ever visits there should – to breeze through the wing of the West Gallery and to see what’s on display. Until September 5, it’s the 66th Members' Exhibition of the American Color Print Society.

Like most organizational member exhibitions, the work is the show varies from the somewhat amateurish to impressive examples of the medium. As a printmaker myself, I was most affected by prints such as Elizabeth H. McDonald’s monotype Bird (see above, photo by the Graphic Conscience). The monotype medium can be splotchy and lackluster, but in the hands of the right person, it has an immediacy that cannot be duplicated. According to the accompanying text, McDonald explains that her one of kind pieces evolve through almost a collagraph means of creation. What drew me in most what the sense in her work that the process takes over, and the artist becomes a mere conduit for the creation of the work. Printmakers know that when the work starts cooking like that, it’s real good.

Relief was well represented in the exhibition with impressive reduction and multi block examples by Natalia Moroz and Anthony Lazorko respectively. I’d like the opportunity to see more work by both of them.

In the intaglio field, some of the work felt disappointingly imitative of Mary Cassatt or Katsushika Hokusai. While I can understand the desire to be like such graphic masters, I feel that there is a difference between evoking the similar feelings and simply mimicking. That said, ACPS members Stephanie Nicholson and Yuji Hiratsuka provided stunning examples of the medium.

Ironically, the print with the strongest presence in the exhibition was a tiny – I’m estimating three by two inches – piece by Herbert Appelson. Unlike some of the etchings, it was suggestive of work by K├Ąthe Kollwitz without being derivative. Between the two figures in his print is a feeling of narrative, a dynamic that intrigues. Despite its tiny size, it is bold enough to carry and hold a viewer’s attention.

The quality of the prints aside, the installation of the exhibit felt a bit stretched to cover all the cases of the West Gallery. Very few of the prints had a strong enough presence to hold an entire case by themselves, or even with one other print. I couldn’t help thinking there could have been more consideration of the installation. However, the exhibition text broke down the processes used by the artist in easy to understand bits of information for those who are not members of the cognoscenti.

To see images of the exhibition – some slightly out of focus – please visit here. To learn more about the ACPS, check out their website.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Albrecht Durer

Ah Durer.

Albrecht Durer.

As a printmaker, his name just says it all. One of the true rock stars of art history, of all time, someone who should be nominated to the Great Artist Hall of Fame. One artist that I am truly and literally capable of throwing my panties at out of admiration. Though currently on view at New York’s Museum of Biblical Art, I felt that would be somewhat inappropriate.

On view at MoBia until September 21, 2008, I jumped at the opportunity to kowtow before 150 or so of some of the greatest contributions to the graphic medium. I'm not sure what insight I can provide for such an artist that has not been said before. The show itself is relatively poorly lit, probably to protect these works on paper. I wish that the exhibition text had clarified if what was on view were originals or restrikes. For a show that focuses on Durer's religious imagery, I was surprised at how much information the exhibition text provided on Durer's financial savvy. It was through his prints that he became well known, creating for his time an accessible, reproducible art with explanatory text in the vernacular language of craftsmen rather than Latin.

During his lifetime, Durer left his good ol'hometown of Nuremberg to travel twice to Italy and once to the Netherlands. His work is now considered by critics to reflect these influences, a form of cultural blending that stands across time as a Renaissance powerhouse, influencing some of the big names like Raphael and Titian. Through crossing boundaries to unfamiliar territory, Durer learned how exposure to new ideas and new understanding can find illuminate reflections of your own cultural identity.

I left MoBia visually drunk and wheeling on an excess of fine line and apocalyptic visions. However, I can't wondering, what if the United Nations stocked artists, and whenever there was a conflict, artists from both sides were sent across borders to learn about the culture of their enemy. There would be misunderstandings at the onset, sure, but perhaps such exchanges could lead to clarity. And when the artists return, their work is displayed, revealing the influences of the other. A new form of diplomacy -- it might be worth a try.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Reading Between the Rings; the 2008 Olympics Opening Ceremony

In the 2004 Olympics Opening Ceremony, Philly was representin’, as our own MattyBoy Hart was on the director's team. For this 2008 round, props go to Zhang Yimou.

As a graphic conscience, the celebrated references to historical Chinese mediums such as papermaking, calligraphy, and printmaking in an event watched by a large portion of the world population made me cheer (see image of movable type, from the Official Site of the 2008 Olympic Games). Though such things as handmade paper and printmaking are now considered art forms, at their invention, they were the height of technology. And, despite all our technology today, paper in particular is still its basis. It takes the form of our money, our marriage licenses, the deeds to our homes, our insurance forms, and all contracts too important to risk in an email black hole or computer crash. So it was exciting to see their origins hailed, and recall that these origins are really the origins of modern society.

It goes without saying that China underwent an enormous amount of construction and design for this event. During the ceremony, one of the American commentators mentioned that the dancers in the electrified green costumes were originally in black. In rehearsal, Zhang Yimou decided he didn’t like the affect, in three days, he had two thousand green costumes. As a conscience, I remembered another Philadelphian, Jeff Gammage, who commented in his book, China Ghosts, (2007) “Alongside of highways we saw tons of dirt being pushed and shaped – and not an earth-mover in sight. No machinery, just a hundred men with shovels, and down the road from them, a hundred more.” (Page 102). I can’t help wondering, who slaved for three days to make two thousand costumes of a different color? Moreover, who were the unrecognized construction workers who built the extraordinarily beautiful Bird’s Nest Stadium, and did they even have power tools?

I’ve always been blown away by the material sensitivity, feeling for light, and restraint of certain Asian artists. Artists such as Xu Bing, Rie Hachiyanagi or Sun Young Kang have the ability to evoke both the transcendental and the mundane, saying exactly what they need to express without clutter. It is this ability that I find lacking in Western minimalism, which seems hollow and plastic in comparison.

Zhang Yimou addressed both the past and the future in his ceremony. He referenced the threat of global warming towards the planet in his ceremony, and went on to imply that through openness and coming together and supporting one another, we can solve problems. The Olympics has brought attention to China as a place of human rights violations, but we should not discount solutions to problems that might be found there and in their philosophies. As threats to the environment continue Zhang Yimou and other artists of Asia and Asian descent’s ability to create works of art with material sensitivity and harmony to their environment becomes more and more important. As we consider our future, perhaps we should take these ideas into consideration.

To see images of the Olympics, including the opening ceremony, visit the 2008 Olympics Official Site. More images of the opening ceremonies can be seen on this video on YouTube.