On the Bounce

by Susan Tallman

May 2019

The present is always cocky—we are too aware of knowing things the past missed, and too oblivious to all we have forgotten (until the moment such things are rediscovered, when we get to shout, “hooray for us” again).

At the time of his death in 1910, the British surgeon and artist Francis Seymour Haden was one of the most celebrated printmakers on the planet, his etchings discussed in the same breath (and breaching the same price bracket) as those of Rembrandt. The recent exhibition of Haden prints at the Fitzwilliam Museum drew attention to both the beauty of Haden’s work, and to its century-long slide onto the art historical B list—a product, Alexander Massouras argues in this issue, of changing taste and increasing discomfort with the idea of the “amateur.”

Meanwhile, in an interview with Catherine Bindman, curator Séverine Lepape explains how chiaroscuro woodcuts were initially perceived as spectacular, then as old-fashioned, then simply forgotten, before rebounding into public favor. And it seems safe to guess that modernists probably found little of interest in Renaissance prints of monumental architectural painting (recently surveyed in Munich, and reviewed here by Armin Kunz) that 21st-century viewers can see as forerunners of prints by artists such as Christo, connecting the power of ephemeral, site-specific experience to that of a distributable paper record.

How artworks connect with people at a given moment, how they are valued or dismissed, is a persistent theme in the essays presented in this issue of Art in Print. In some, writers chart the untidy waveforms of how reputations intersect time. In others, they consider artists who have chosen to take on history directly. Jacob Lawrence, for example, destabilized centuries of Eurocentric history painting by placing black actors in the leading roles of pictorial cycles such as The Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture, reviewed here by Re’al Christian. Mary Schina’s 2016 Aegean Odes, examined by Mary MacNaughton, picture the physical and conceptual recovery of salvaged ancient artifacts. The Spanish artists in Elisa Germán’s review melded the 20th-century language of abstraction to an atavistic understanding of place. In Chin Wang’s screenprints, reviewed by Megan Liberty, the history of loss and recovery is a private one: the here-and-not-here experience of the immigrant.

Ivan Albright was famously fascinated by aging, entropy and dissolution, and as John Murphy explains, used printmaking to build recursive loops of time into his own production. The recurrence of horror occurs in a much more pressing way in Eric Avery and Adam DelMarcelle’s project, Epidemic, which, some three decades after Avery’s first works on AIDS, addresses the American opioid crisis in terms both heartbreaking and pragmatic.

Christiane Baumgartner’s solo exhibition at Wellesley College, reviewed here by Sarah Kirk Hanley, was titled after her print Another Country, a monumental woodcut of New York Harbor derived from a snapshot. It is a momentary image of flux, recast as something solid and lasting. For those with an eye on history, its heroic sweep of carved water and small bits of human infrastructure on the horizon may recall Titian’s great monumental woodcut The Submersion of Pharaoh's Army in the Red Sea, the subject of Matthias Wivel’s essay here.

Wivel’s interest, however, is not in the churning water, or in the dramatically drowning Egyptians or happy Hebrews, but in the small dog that Titian placed front and nearly center, defecating on a rock. It is an eccentric detail, a rude political joke and a reminder of plain truths.

Oceans rise, etchers fall, dogs go on doing what they must.

Who knows what might happen next?