On Border Crossings

by Susan Tallman

March 2017

Welcome to Art in Print’ssixth annual New Editions issue. As usual, we dispatched a dozen reviewers to New York Print Week, where galleries, print publishers and artists gather to unveil new projects. And as usual, we noted certain trends—abstraction is flourishing, whether clean-limbed and flat like Tess Jaray’s screenprints, or half-controlled chaos, like Alexa Horochowski’s Vortex Drawings. Dots loomed large (and small), sprinkled through works by John Armleder, Damien Hirst, Louise Kohrman, Andy Spence and Janine Wong (with Mungo Thomson’s scattered coin reliefs offering a nonfiction near-relation).

Print Week 2016, however, took place in the days just before the American presidential election, and one set of dots in particular stood out as discomfortingly emblematic: the three rubberized horsehair disks preceding the exclamation point of Richard Artschwager’s Dat, Dat, Dat, DUH (2006). Here was the itchy agitation of waiting, the laden ellipse before the unavoidable paroxysm. We did not then know the flavor of that paroxysm. Now we do.

The reviews that appear here were written in a different world than the one in which the art they address was made. The swell of nationalist “[Your name here] First” belligerence is no longer just rhetoric; it is engaged political action.

In his interview with Paul Coldwell, recorded the week before the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, Alan Cristea speaks movingly of the excitement generated by prints and editions when he entered the business in the 1970s, and of his aspiration to “paper the world in original art.”

It is a reminder that prints are, by nature and design, cosmopolitan. They are built to travel, to be shared, to convey thoughts and ideas and styles from one place to another. They are portable and permeable. They are the opposite of a wall.

And these qualities flow through the editions presented here. Though most were seen in New York, fewer than half these artists carry American passports, and two-thirds of the projects involved border crossings. Christiane Baumgartner, born in East Germany, offers a view across the Hudson; the British artist Tacita Dean, who lives in Berlin, gives us Los Angeles clouds; the California artist John Zurier captures the summer light in Copenhagen. Ross Bleckner, Serena Perrone, Leah Beeferman and Liza Lou collaborated with people and places ringing the Atlantic, from North America to Iceland, Spain, Italy and South Africa.

These are not incidental facts—displacement is what many of these prints are about. In Cape Town, Dan Halter replicated the defunct currency of his native Zimbabwe. In Brooklyn, Hanneline Røgeberg redrew an icon of French independence as a stand-in for raised fists in Mexico City and Oslo. In New York, Brian Belott resurrected a lost painting with the help of a Japanese woodblock artist.

Samantha Wall’s work addresses the double-consciousness of mixed-race identity; Michael Menchaca’s links Mesoamerican mythology and videogames; Jordan Nassar, a New Yorker of Polish-Palestinian descent, cites culture clashes embedded in historical embroideries, while Beryl Korot finds a universe of pattern in weaving.

Claas Gutsche, Andy Burgess and Keith Coventry all consider the gap between the borderless aspirations of International Style architecture and the realities of local manifestations. Robert Olsen’s freeway overpass, published posthumously, is Californian, though its structure might be found today on five continents.

Other artists zeroed in on domestic belongings: John McDevitt King’s strewn objects; Analia Saban’s elegantly exploded ones; Thomas Schütte’s schematized garden gnomes; the myriad items packed into Astrid Bowlby’s Everything. Mickeline Thomas and Andrew Raftery both offered expansive visions in which household belongings and individual identity melt together.

The winner of the current Prix de Print, selected by Katie Michel, is Susan Goethel Campbell’s Aerial, Other Cities #9 (2015), a view from a plane window of an urban center by night. The bright lights that articulate roads and buildings are literally cut through the blackness; they are the white of the wall seen through holes in the paper—absences that unexpectedly speak of presences: somebody is home.

A century ago William James observed, “everything is many directional . . . no one point of view or attitude commands everything at once in a synthetic scheme . . . Things are ‘with’ one another in many ways, but nothing includes everything, or dominates everything. The word ‘and’ trails along after every sentence.”
Among the seldom-seen works on view during Print Week was a group of etchings by Richard Pousette-Dart. Never editioned, each of these prints is both an idea and a point of departure for the next thought. In their own modest way, they spoke for the openness and plenitude that is perhaps print’s greatest virtue. Art rarely produces political change, but it can affirm values—a tolerance for ambiguity, perhaps; an acceptance of (even delight in) complexity; a curiosity about whatever lies on the other side of the border.

Or, as Faye Hirsch puts it in her review of Carnet 19 by the German artist (and Zen Buddhist monk) Anton Würth: “[it] allows a contemplation on how little it takes, really, to open a universe.”