On Watching the Detectives

by Susan Tallman

March 2019

This is Art in Print’seighth annual New Editions issue. The artists who appear here were selected by nine different writers, and range from renowned (Jasper Johns, Terry Winters, Francesco Clemente) to emerging (Qiaoyi Shi, Shivangi Ladha). The youngest is in her mid-20s, the oldest in her mid-90s. The methods and materials they employ are similarly wide ranging, from the assertively high tech (Alex Dodge) to the foundational (the street-posted woodcuts of A Paper Monument for the Paperless) to quixotic hybrids of the two (Vanessa Marsh). Some projects carry five-figure price tags, some are free. Some are as big as walls (Sandow Birk and Elyse Pignolet), many are no bigger than a children’s book.

What all of them—abstract or figurative, expansive or meticulous—share is a rigorous curiosity.

There are many reasons for making art, but most artworks fall into one of two camps: things that are made to say something, and things that are made to figure something out. That “something” may be formal, or personal, or political, but if the object is a document of discovery, there is often a lot to look at and think about. If it was made as a message, there’s little to do but read it and walk away.

For every artist in this issue, art is a space of investigation. Vera Molnar, Charles Gaines and Darren Almond use it to test human perception and the workings of representation. Stanley Whitney, Jackie Saccoccio and Victoria Burge chase the myriad solutions implicit in seemingly simple structures. Analia Saban reconnoiters the array of customary materials and habits. Dana Schutz and Dasha Shishkin treat art as a playground for unfettered narrative invention.

The intrusion of political mayhem into every aspect of life has provoked many artists into desperate and unexpected mashups—as when Sean Scully inserts a childish gun amid his poised abstractions, Enrique Chagoya dispatches ethnic stereotypes by making heads explode and Teresita Fernandez hints at the fire to come.

Others—including Saya Woolfalk, Chitra Ganesh and Rico Gatson—have responded with alternative universes in which our own cultural hierarchies are upended. In a similar way, the foregrounding of craft and labor in the prints of Lisa Anne Auerbach, Amy Cunat, Jacob Hashimoto and Ikeda Manabu prompts us to wonder how the ethos of everything might shift if certain aspects of human endeavor were accorded more respect. (A thought that also underlies B. Wurtz’s exhibition, reviewed in this issue.)

All this is evidence of a desire to “see” things not yet shown. Perhaps this impulse explains the eyes that seem to erupt in artworks throughout this issue: the anxious eyes in Rashid Johnson’s scrawled faces and Sarah Ball’s anonymous portraits; the masked eyes of Lisa Wright’s mysterious figures; the scattered, disembodied eyes in the fragmented figures of William Villalongo and Lonnie Holley; the color-coded eyes in Sara Greenberger Rafferty’s borrowed gravures.

Appropriately perhaps, given the investigative tenor of this issue, the winner of the Prix de Print, selected by Alexander Massouras, is Dario Robleto’s The First Time, The Heart (First Pulse, Flatline) (2017), which derives from the earliest visual recordings of the human heartbeat, at birth and at death.

And in a final flourish of forensic rigor, this issue includes a detective story dating back to 1882, the year Edouard Manet wrote to a friend suggesting the destruction of an etching plate that somehow, a dozen years later, was producing posthumous editions of the artist’s Jeanne. Manet scholar Juliet Wilson-Bareau lays out the case and the impact of a recently discovered proof on our understanding of Manet’s oeuvre.

Who knows what might happen next?