On the (Mostly) New

by Susan Tallman

March 2016

Welcome to Art in Print’s fifth annual “New Editions” issue. As in previous years, this issue represents a partial, incomplete and circumstantial overview, limited by opportunity (which works were available to be seen), space (it is not possible to cover everything), and personal predilection. To mitigate the effects of the latter we have brought together more than a dozen authors who have selected some three-dozen recent projects for your consideration.

Most of these works have been produced in the past year. Some were fabricated by the artists themselves, some by professional workshops. Several use means that would have been familiar in the 15th century, while others take advantage of technologies barely a decade old. We present this array as a field of exploration, not as an illustration of any particular thesis. That said, one can find myriad signals within the noise. Bearing in mind that trends are very much in the eye and mind of the beholder, here are a few:

Human beings appear rarely in these pages—only Kerry James Marshall, Nicole Eisenman and Daniel Heyman depict individuals, and all use woodcut to do so. But if specific people are scarce, human presence is everywhere. It can be found in gestural traces (Jill Moser), in the litter we leave behind (B. Wurtz), and in our palpable absence (Donald Baechler’s Tantric Feet,whose owner seems to have left the planet). The ostensibly abstract images of Rodney Carswell and Craig Taylor are so anthropomorphic they seem on the verge of speaking, while the geometries of Tomma Abts and Spencer Finch address the point where physics and ocular perception meet—the world in the human eye.

Nature is present too, but is seldom uncompromised. Jim Hodges and Victoria Burge evoke experiences of the natural world through visibly artificial means. Kiki Smith’s wild turkey and Richard Ryan’s heron are among the most attentive portraits here, but the autonomy of the subject is balanced against the materiality of the picture. The seemingly natural birds of Carsten Höller’s photogravures—like the seemingly natural textures of Jacqueline Humphries’ abstractions—are in fact the products of human engineering. Sebastiaan Bremer and Mungo Thompson borrow from books celebrating nature with a distinctly unnatural didactic concision. Sarah Sze makes this point tidily, embedding the cosmos within the space of a New York Times page.

“Finitum non capax infiniti,” John Calvin wrote—the finite cannot contain the infinite—and the task of representing the physical and metaphysical universe in tangible objects has always been fraught with difficulty. Historically, the print series took up some of the slack, suggesting that any given subject—the life of the Virgin or the nature of polyhedrons—was best understood as a multivalent entity. The National Gallery’s recent exhibition “The Serial Impulse,” reviewed in this issue by Julie Warchol, made clear how important the series format is to contemporary art, offering a way to accommodate complexity and fragmentation.

The majority of editions selected for this issue were indeed made in series, and a number replay well-known historical exemplars: Enrique Chagoya continues to update Goya’s great Caprichos and Disparates; Michelle Grabner zeroed in on the weave of engraved line in Hogarth’s Marriage à-la-Mode; Matthew Day Jackson and Jane E. Goldman cite John James Audubon’s Birds of America to dramatically different ends. Both Noah Breuer and this issue’s Prix de Print winner, Cassandra Hooper (selected by Brian T. Allen), allude to that paradigmatic populist print series, the baseball card.
For Jacob Hashimoto and Sebastian Black, serial variation illuminates how a single question can have multiple, related solutions, while Koen Delaere, José Pedro Croft and Jay Heikes play permutationally with a limited set of procedures. Alison Bianco built one image from six parts, but the visible stammer emphasizes how contingent that unity is. John Baldessari uses the series to riff on fashion journalism and celebrity couples. Cornelia Parker, like Höller, is best known for installations that catch human perception and the physical world in situations of emphatic instability, and her photogravure series perches quietly on the edge of the uncanny.

Mai-Thu Perret’s discreet etchings and Trenton Doyle Hancock’s ebulliently bizarre multiple are neither formal members of a series nor independent objects, but props that have escaped from the alternate universes that are the subject of the artists’ works.

Appropriately, perhaps, the only noncontemporary work considered in this issue are the fantastical woodblocks of Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797–1861) and 19th-century visionary prints recently on view at the Petit Palais in Paris (reviewed here by Laurie Hurwitz). Alongside the potpourri of new editions, they remind us that contemporary art has no patent on cosmological uncertainty.