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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

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Recommended viewing

Oded Hirsch - Totchka, 2010 still from video
This is the first time I'm recommending a show I haven't seen, but circumstances have forced my hand, as I've been unable to get there and time is seriously running out. The current exhibition at the University at Albany Art Museum, which runs through Saturday (Dec. 12) features two big-time artists who are represented by New York City galleries.

Brian Tolle - Out of Service, 2010
Platinum silicon rubber and crutches
Though this by no means guarantees a great show, I've got a good feeling about Brian Tolle: Bordering Utopia, which is a retrospective of fascinating-looking sculptures (images at right and below), and Oded Hirsch: Three Videos (image above), which I will be viewing last-minute this weekend.

Maybe I'll run into you there, and we can compare notes on whether we like this stuff or not, and why. Please feel free to comment here on your experience. I may come back with additional commentary of my own - this time, after seeing the show.

Brian Tolle - Alice and Job, 2006
hand-carved Styrofoam, robotics and acrylic paint

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Tick/Zellin at the PhotoCenter

Agnes Zellin - untitled photograph from Astoria N.Y., late 1970s or early 1980s
In an extreme case of better late than never, two bodies of work by photographers Paul Tick and Agnes Zellin have been mounted in a beautifully conceived exhibition at the PhotoCenter of the Capital District in Troy, on view through Dec. 13 (PhotoCenter hours are Th-Fr, 5-9, and Sat-Sun, 12-6).

Agnes Zellin - untitled photograph from Astoria N.Y.
late 1970s or early 1980s
Originally urged by their mutual mentor Mel Rosenthal more than 35 years ago, this event is the curatorial baby of Mark Kelly (creator of the former Exposed Gallery of Art Photography in Delmar), who designed and planned the installation, along with a handsome short-run book that accompanies it. Kelly has done an admirable job of presenting two collections that share many characteristics but are also quite distinct from one another.

There are many stories behind these photographs, including that of their makers, who are married to each other now. The pictures fall cleanly into the category of "concerned photography" - not quite journalism, not quite art; rather, a form of personal documentary that held sway for decades from the WPA era, through the heyday of Life magazine, and into the 1970s, when Tick and Zellin were learning their craft and prowling New York City with their cameras.

Paul Tick and Agnes Zellin
photo by Tricia Cremo
In those days, just about everybody was shooting black-and-white 35mm film in the street (a habit I understand is making a big comeback today). One feature that sets these two apart from that crowd is that they did not just grab and run. Instead, they formed relationships with their subjects and present them with an unusual depth. They also take a rather sociological stance, which comes across readily at a level of caring that many photographers lack.

It takes energy to care, and time; Tick and Zellin gave it, and this exhibition demands it of the viewer, too. The pictures are touching, many are melancholy, some are even heartbreaking. But they are neither exploitative nor facile. Tick's approach is to get to know his subjects - every one of them a bottom-of-the-gutter Bowery drunk - then capture them in beautiful portraits, which are paired with their own matter-of-fact utterances (handwritten by the photographer). The results resonate across the decades and connect directly to our souls.

Paul Tick - Untitled photograph 1978
Zellin created her larger series (there are 32 of hers, 22 of his) as a long-form essay about an ethnic neighborhood in Queens, where she clearly was part of the scene and enjoyed what appears to be easy access to her relaxed subjects. Her scenes of everyday (or night) activities are sweet and sensitive, and speak of a time and place that's becoming rare in North America, when people knew their neighbors like family.

The work is presented without titles, mats or frames, cleanly printed with white borders using modern digital technology, and it looks really good on the walls. The book is equally appealing, and I understand has sold out a first run already. Both are well worth a good, long look.

Paul Tick untitled photograph from Manhattan, 1978