On Being There

by Susan Tallman

January 2014

How do you see new prints?

It’s a simple enough question, though the answer is often complicated. Galleries that can afford to devote wall space to prints are fewer in number every year. Museums organize great print exhibitions, but are rarely able to show the most recent work. Visiting artists’ studios and printshops may be an option, but only if you are well-connected and sufficiently endowed with time and frequent-flier miles. Fairs provide essential opportunities to see many things from many places efficiently, though they are not ideal environments for aesthetic contemplation.

For Art in Print’s third annual New Editions issue, our contributors relied on all these strategies. Asked to select recent prints of interest, they searched galleries and not-for-profit spaces, visited studios and workshops and scoured art fairs in London, New York and Miami. Their reviews cover some two-dozen projects, from self-published editions by independent printmakers to collaborations between prominent artists and distinguished printers. In a longer essay, Paris-based artist and writer Kate McCrickard introduces the visually loquacious fantasies of the Russian-American painter and etcher Dasha Shishkin. These artworks testify to the continued vitality of print as medium, artifact and logic in contemporary culture. The problem for viewers is not lack of good art but lack of access to it.

The remarkable drive of artists to create venues for the discussion and production of prints is demonstrated in Carrie Ida Edinger’s account of the IMPACT conference in Dundee and in Jason Urban’s report on the new Fanoon Centre for Printmedia Research in Qatar.

Though prints are built for travel, getting writers and prints in the same place at the same time is still a challenge, and artists and printers working outside of a handful of urban centers remain at a disadvantage. This issue’s “Treasures from the Vault” essay, by Smith College curator Aprile Gallant, examines the under-recognized work of Munio Makuuchi, a Japanese-American artist raised in the Pacific Northwest, interned in Idaho during World War II, educated in the Midwest and employed for much of his career in Nigeria.  

Makuuchi died in 2000, before the Internet reached its current status as an artist’s most effective calling card. The Internet, of course, is a mixed blessing. Surely the most efficient tool for gaining a broad overview of contemporary art and print activity, it is also the world’s greatest host of misunderstanding. (As I write, post offices around the world are heaving with holiday purchases returning home because the thing in question was not quite what was imagined from the online image.)

At Art in Print we rely on the efficacy of digital reproduction while acknowledging its limitations and attempting, through words, to compensate readers for all those specific physical qualities lost in facsimile. Our rule is that reviews can be written only about things the author has seen in person; they must be responses to physical encounters with the work. The New Editions listings, on the other hand, include work sent to us digitally, and the Prix de Print is awarded on the basis of digital reproductions. In a perfect world, our juror would be able to sift through piles of actual prints, coming to understand the paper, the scale, the texture and the presence of each work. In the real world, JPEGs make it economically feasible for an artist in Australia to submit work to the Art in Print office in North America and have it judged in Europe (and whatever their failings, most JPEGs are far more faithful to their subjects than the 35mm slides that were used to judge art a decade ago). We make these pragmatic accommodations in the belief that some knowledge is better than none.

The thing to remember is that the reproduction—online or in the pages of this journal—is the invitation, not the party. It may be that the print itself is inaccessible, locked away in a vault or on the other side of the world. The invitation may be as close as most of us can get. Or not.

Jurying this issue’s Prix de Print, Andrew Raftery sat in Providence, Rhode Island, scanning dozens of anonymous images. (The competition is done blind; each entry is identified by title and technical information along with an artist’s statement, but the names of artists, printers and publishers are expunged.) In the end Andrew settled on a work that turned out to be by James S. Janecek.  Janacek lives in Providence. Sometimes the party is next door.