On Four

by Susan Tallman

May 2014

More than 500 years after European culture was first transformed by the meeting of paper, ink and template, printed images remain a ubiquitous presence, notwithstanding the digital revolution that was supposed to change it all. Prints are now, as they have been for centuries, the things most of us hang on our walls. The mediation that is integral to print—the intercession of devices and templates between instigator and recipient—has so permeated the way we see and think that we hardly notice it. Yet printed images as objects, and as a specific and determining mode of communication, get scant press coverage; the art we are most likely to own is also the art we are least likely to read about.

One of the great pleasures of editing Art in Print is that there is so much to be surveyed. This issue marks the beginning of our fourth year. In that time we have addressed Renaissance engravings and Expressionist woodcuts as well as Renaissance woodcuts and Expressionist engravings; the poetics of the livre d’artiste and the influence of the photocopier on the aesthetics of Punk. We have reviewed hundreds of new editions, books, exhibitions and events. In the past year we welcomed Sarah Kirk Hanley’s INK Blog, which continues to break new stories about prints and the print world, and we inaugurated the “Prix de Print” competition to help level the playing field for artists trying to bring their work to a global audience.

This issue opens with the first serious studies of the prints of Tauba Auerbach and of the early 20th century American sculptor John Flannagan, both of whom set up flirtations between flatness and dimensionality. In other essays, the promise of repetition held out by printing is broken into a source of poignant meaning in both Adam Jeppesen’s recent grand photogravures and Christian Rohlfs’ 1918 woodcut, Prisoner (1918).

As Britany Salsbury notes in her review of Printmaking in Paris: The Rage for Prints at the Fin de Siècle, the fashionability of prints ebbs and flows with broader cultural currents. And while it is customary to decry the sorry state of the present, this issue documents an embarrassment of riches in terms of recent exhibitions. Jay Clarke surveys the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s ambitious show of German Romanticism; Alison Chang reports on how museums in Oslo and Zürich used works on paper to celebrate Edvard Munch’s 150th birthday; Tiffany Johnson Bidler takes apart the inter-century play between contemporary engraver Anton Würth and the 17th century paradigms of Robert Nanteuil at the Snite Museum; and Allison Rudnick revisits the Minimalist prints of Dan Flavin, Donald Judd and Fred Sandback on view at David Zwirner Gallery.

Unlike those exhibitions, the Tate Modern’s grand Richard Hamilton retrospective, reviewed here by Paul Coldwell, was not explicitly a print show: it included paintings, collages, sculptures and installations, but openly acknowledged the importance of print—and prints—to Hamilton’s thinking and processes. A similar integration and “normalization” of print is visible on a more modest scale in the exhibitions reviewed by Owen Duffy and Elleree Erdos. The survey of digital fabrication at New York’s Museum of Arts and Design (catalogue review by Elliott Mickleburgh) generated buzz for its novelty, but its essential underpinning—the ancient printerly idea of art-via-template—was simply assumed.

All this points to a dismantling of some of the prejudice that has tended to keep prints at a distance from the better-trafficked areas of museums and galleries. Certainly the volume of announcements flowing into Art in Print suggests that the territory of prints is vast and growing larger.

Art in Print is doing its best to keep up. We are currently rebuilding our website to make it faster and more functional. The new site will maintain most of the appearance of the old one (nobody likes to relearn navigation), but subscribers will now be able to access all articles electronically without having to download a PDF (though downloading will still be an option). Search capabilities will be hugely expanded, and the members’ page will feature easily identifiable new content and a renewal system that actually works. (To all of you have found yourself in the old system seemingly designed by Franz Kafka, we do apologize).

At the same time, we will continue to pursue intriguing questions about art, culture and society. Upcoming issues will focus on prints and domesticity; dreams of Arcadia; art produced in states of crisis; and prints as messengers of globalization avant la lettre and after. The next issue will look at screenprint, perhaps the most commonly used hand-print technology in the world—and the least respected. We aim to remedy that.