On Plenty

by Susan Tallman

January 2012

It is astonishing to think that there was a time in the not-too-distant past when the survival of the artist’s print was seriously in doubt. The recent print fairs in New York and London demonstrated the vitality of the field through every quantifiable measure: the number of artists at work, the number of publishers risking capital, the number of viewers showing up to see the products of those efforts, and the number of collectors willing to pony up cash to take something home.

Quantity, of course, is not the same as quality, and sums are not the same as substance, so this issue of Art in Print is dedicated to a discussion of recent editions and the ideas that they have set in circulation. We asked a number of writers, artists, and curators to pick recent projects of interest, and rejected only those than were redundant. We exercised no curatorial hand to shape the results. What follows are 50 reviews of new editions. It could have been 500.

Some of these projects were printed and published by artists working on their own in a manner not substantially different from that of Dürer or Seghers. Some are the result of extravagant investments of technological and physical resources. A partial list of tools used includes wood blocks and chisels, copper plates and burins, acid baths, lithography stones, photography, coal dust, lasers, digital scanners, Photoshop, photo-sensitized polymer plates, cast porcelain, digital ink-jet printers, Japanese paper and crowbars. Some are individual images, others are multi-print sets. The smallest measures 3 x 3 inches, the largest runs 3 x 28 feet.

Almost all were published in 2011, but occasionally we elected to include editions slightly older. Some prints cost a few hundred dollars, some cost tens of thousands. Occasionally this is a reflection of production costs. More often it is a reflection of the artist’s reputation and market standing.

It is necessary to acknowledge the role of the market here. There is no question that “market forces” have played a role in the selection of work presented here. While we have purposefully sought out artists working independently, many more works have to come to our attention through galleries, printshops and publishers. It is, however, possible to oversimplify the situation. It has become commonplace for members of the art world to identify themselves by their relationship to the market: those who celebrate Art Basel Miami Beach as high culture on one side, those who decry the commodification of art on the other. Both positions are ridiculous (a party is a party, retail is retail, and everything is a potential commodity.) One of the happy characteristics of the print, however, is its pragmatism: prints are so obviously commodities, their multiplicity so clearly tied to market needs, that there is little point waxing sanctimonious about the purity of art. At the same time, print prices are low enough that they can be looked at and actually seen as art, rather than simply as a backdrop for Kardashian excess.

At its best, the marketplace is a locus of exchange for ideas as well as commodities. Print fairs certainly work this way, inspiring animated discussions among footsore denizens. We hope this issue will do the same, and we invite you—the constituents of the print community—to let us know what you think. What did we leave out? What did we miss? What goes in the next issue?