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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Pulled, Pressed and Screened: Important American Prints at The Hyde Collection

Robert Cottingham - Orph, 1972 color lithograph on wove paper
Perhaps my biggest regret from my college experience is that I never studied printmaking. Aside from the fact that, outside of art school, it's hard to get access to a fully equipped print shop (and, so, it was an opportunity lost) I think I would have enjoyed the processes. And I'm sure I would be a smarter person now if I had learned some of those complex techniques then.

Jim Dine - Self Portrait Zinc + Acid, 1964
etching on wove paper
That's one reason I wholeheartedly urge you to see Pulled, Pressed and Screened: Important American Prints at The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, on view through Jan. 10. Organized by the Syracuse University Art Collection, Pulled, Pressed and Screened features 51 prints by as many artists and spans the decades from 1930 to 1980.

This gorgeous selection makes clear how important printmaking is to 20th-century American art and provides a wonderful window onto our history. It's also easy to love, as many of the artists are familiar names, including Grant Wood, Robert Blackburn, Jasper Johns, Helen Frankenthaler, Milton Avery, Romare Bearden, and Dorothy Dehner.

Anne Ryan - Three Figures, 1948
color woodcut on black wove paper
From those names alone you begin to get the picture - high quality, diversity, and commitment to the medium are hallmarks of the work gathered here. There are also many lesser-known but marvelous artists in the group, such as Boris Margo, who invented the "cellocut," a precursor to the collagraph that uses colorless plastic to create embossed relief. His example, titled Comet, is elegant and quietly beautiful and was one of my favorites in the show. Another discovery was a 1948 color woodcut on black paper by Anne Ryan. Titled Three Figures, it could almost have been a Klee or Miro print.

Jasper Johns - Periscope, 1981
color intaglio on wove paper
Like Ryan, many of the artists in this collection are primarily printmakers, especially several from the middle period of the show when graphic art retained a special place in a nation still establishing its values. The show is organized somewhat chronologically and somewhat by theme (hung on walls painted a perfect shade of ochre), so these more socially conscious artists, such as Charles White, Elizabeth Catlett, Ben Shahn, and Antonio Frasconi, are grouped nicely together, giving us food for thought along the way. We also get a good variety of techniques to study here, such as wood engraving, linocut, and lithography.

Alex Katz - White Petunia, 1969
lithograph on wove paper
There's always the question of whether an established painter who makes prints is really a printmaker at all, but the artists included here generally delved into the medium - they didn't just use it to reproduce their paintings, but explored it as a realm unto itself. Roy Lichtenstein is a strong illustration of this idea. In his embossed 1976 screenprint Entablature VII (reproduced at the bottom of this post) you see how the print itself is his goal - with lush exploitation of the milky white paper, metal foil additions, and unusual pebbly embossing, he has created something special that is not much like a painting at all.

Among the earlier examples in the show are many immigrants, often using the graphic medium as a people's art form and as a platform to communicate ideas about social progress. This includes Harry Gottlieb, a Romanian native whose The Strike is Won is vintage WPA propaganda; Yasuo Kuniyoshi's Aerialist, which portrays a high-wire artist as a real person; and Minna Wright Cintron's acerbic Men Seldom Make Passes, which simultaneously amuses and flirts with early abstraction. Also in this group are icons of the Depression era: Reginald Marsh, Thomas Hart Benton, John Steuart Curry, Stuart Davis, and Wood.

After a period that emphasized abstraction, it's interesting to note that some of the later work in the show returns to social issues, with examples by Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol leading the way, capped off by a Vito Acconci six-part acquatint from 1979-81 that combines the flags of the U.S, the Soviet Union, and China. A lot has happened since, in politics and art, but Pulled, Pressed and Screened still packs a nice punch. Try to see it if you can.

Also, please note the Hyde is "pay as you wish" for the month of December.

Roy Lichtenstein - Entablature VII, 1976, screenprint embossing on wove paper

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