On Visibility

by Susan Tallman

January 2013

With this issue we celebrate the New Year retrospectively, looking back at the past twelve months and its cornucopia of art production. The decision to lodge the “new editions” issue at the start of the year is both notional (what better time to mark time?) and convenient. The profusion of print fairs in October and November enables Art in Print contributors to see hundreds, if not thousands, of new prints and multiples from around the world in the space of a few days and a couple of locations.

Events such as the Multiplied fair in London and the IFPDA Print Fair and E|AB fair in New York bring exhibitors from around the world. In combination with the various concurrent gallery exhibitions, these events offer viewing opportunities that are notably rare. For all that prints are honored as portable, easily distributed art—what artist Pol Bury called rêveries postales—they can be difficult to experience in person. The distribution networks for prints often end not on gallery walls but in flat file drawers and Solander boxes. Art in Print was founded to address this invisibility problem, but reading about something is a different thing from standing in front of it or holding it in your hand.

That said, however, 2012 was an exceptional year for the visibility of contemporary printed art, from the opening of the Museum of Modern Art’s mammoth “Print/Out” exhibition in February [see Art in Print Vol 2 No 1] to the closing of the Wade Guyton retrospective at the Whitney this month. There was William Kentridge’s expansive “Universal Archive” on view this past fall and Nicole Eisenman’s double tour-de-force last spring.

Print, its artifacts and its strategies, have become ever more central to contemporary art as a whole as the world has become ever more permeated by pre-authored visual material. Guyton’s vast canvases are fed through Epson printers but, like the screenprinted paintings of Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol, they are rarely discussed as prints. Warhol’s deft, daft explanation was, “I suppose you could call the paintings prints, but the material used for the paintings was canvas.”1 It is ironic that, in an era when art theory habitually locates meaning in process, all one needs to do to transform a print into a painting is change the substrate.

In “Print/Out,” curator Christophe Cherix observed: “Prints have become so ubiquitous… that they appear to have been almost fully absorbed into contemporary art practice in general.”2 Absorption may suggest disappearance, but one of the most talked about artists of the year was Nicole Eisenman, whose back-to-back exhibitions at the Whitney Biennial and Leo Koenig Inc featured monotypes, woodcuts, etchings and lithographs. These were prints by any measure—16th to 18th century technologies made to do 21st century work; images that negotiated their way—as most of us do—between cultural inheritances and new inventions, polished appearances and gut responses.

With this issue, we have attempted to capture the range and dynamism of what is, or can be housed under the roof of “prints and editions.” As we did last year, we asked a dozen writers with different areas of expertise to select recent editions to review. While Hurricane Sandy and the attendant postponement of the E/AB fair and numerous gallery exhibitions thwarted our plans somewhat, this issue presents the work of more than a hundred artists. The “Reviews” section includes dozens of short essays on new works by artists ranging from eminent to emerging. The “New Editions” section lists many works we were unable to see in person. And a new section, titled “≤100,” discussed artists’ projects priced at less than $100, £100, or €100. Some of these are mass-market, even utilitarian, adaptations of art works; some are handmade, limited edition prints on paper; some occupy the cavernous ground in between.

All these works say something about the relationship between technologies and instincts, private thought and public distribution, and the experience of living a new life in an old world.

Happy New Year.