Albrecht Dürer - Agony in the Garden (Christ on the Mount of Olives), 1508
detail of a print from the Engraved Passion series
It can be easy to overlook printmaking as an art form, especially in our current digital age, where a few clicks will get you a nice image made of ink on paper. But two very different shows currently on view at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown serve as timely reminders that it wasn’t always so easy, and that it still takes vision to make easy into wonderful.
All fans of visual art know the name Albrecht Dürer, but most of us probably didn’t know that Dürer “singlehandedly transformed printmaking from a craft to a fine art” in the late 1400s and early 1500s, as postulated and amply demonstrated by the traveling exhibition Albrecht Dürer: Master Prints, on loan to FAM through Nov. 22 from Pennsylvania’s Reading Public Museum.
Fall of Man from the Small Woodblock Passion, c. 1510
Not that Dürer eschewed popularity – on the contrary, according to the exhibition wall text, “his prints circulated throughout Europe, making him one of the most influential artists of his age.” Something like today’s YouTube or Instagram stars, he gave the people what they wanted, providing his own special twists in the form of naturalistic curiosities, bravura line work, and visual puzzles. The woodblock print Fall of Man provides one example of these strengths – whereas a simple rendering of Adam and Eve with the snake would do, Dürer adds other animals such as a bear (or is it a boar?) and a peeping lion, along with his classic personal logo on a trompe l’oeil metal tag.
|Joachim and the Angel from The Life of the Virgin, 1504|
All in all, with a little patience (and maybe a magnifying glass, available for use in the museum), this display of Dürer’s master works will greatly reward any visitor.
Kykuit Estate, Tarrytown, New York
Gross and Daley work as a duo, and they built this collection of images over more than a decade (mixed in with other projects), by visiting numerous venerable parks and estates to capture their seemingly timeless outdoor spaces using digital cameras.
The resulting show of 22 prints, all of them transformed to the mellow blue tones of a cyanotype, provides both a document of these special places and a lush and pensive visual style that the pair have cultivated over many decades of photographing landscapes and gardens together. The beautiful consistency of this group belies the diversity of its subjects, ranging from South Carolina to Upstate N.Y.
Untermyer Park, Yonkers, New York
In many of these pictures, the sky is a powerful presence. This may have been part of the reason for printing in blue, or just a happy byproduct of the decision to render the gardens themselves in blue, but the effect of that choice works beautifully (I have tried to imagine these images in a classic grey monotone instead, and it doesn’t seem to work at all). In any case, the skies are crucial to the work precisely because, while the rest of the subject matter is virtually unchanged from its inception a century or more ago, the ever-changing sky captured in a fleeting moment firmly anchors the images as photographs, timeless though they may seem.
Blue Gardens will remain on view at FAM through Dec. 31.
Steve Gross and Susan Daley - Crane Estate, Ipswich, Massachusetts