On Seeing the Unseen

by Susan Tallman

September 2019

People make all kinds of demands of art—we want it to be beautiful or challengingly ugly; to be “true” (whatever that means) or playfully illusionistic; to encourage piety or protest. More than anything, however, we ask it to show us something we haven’t seen before—a new way of seeing, or feeling, or understanding. This issue of Art in Print looks into the fundamental creative act of visualizing the invisible.

Eight of the essays here grew out of a UK-based interdisciplinary network, Picturing the Invisible, that has brought together scientists, historians, doctors and artists to discuss the habits of mind and protocols of training through which people make images of what cannot be seen. Art in Print asked the participants to extend this inquiry by considering works of art they felt were reflective of these processes in their own domains. Physicist Adam Gibson and rare books specialist Tabitha Tuckett report on what lies beneath the skin of Andreas Vesalius’s 1555 anatomy treatise, De humanis corporis fabrica libri septem; forensic scientist Ruth Morgan contemplates the fragmentary nature of evidence in the light of John Baldessari’s Black Dice (1982); surgeon Roger Kneebone examines the depiction of medical care in Barbara Hepworth’s Concourse 2 (1948); astrophysicist Roberto Trotta connects the discovery of dark matter to Dane Mitchell’s Perfume Plume monoprints (2011); Owen Hopkins, curator at Sir John Soane’s Museum in London, writes about four prints given to Soane by Giambattista Piranesi and their effect on Soane’s own peculiarly elusive architecture; philosopher Tanja Staehler joins student Phineas Jennings in scrutinizing shame, pregnancy and Louise Bourgeois’ Reticent Child (2004). And in a serendipitous pairing, artist Paul Coldwell analyzes the positive presence of negative space in Giorgio Morandi’s Various Objects on a Table (1931), while
psychoanalyst Stephan Doering looks at absence and Sigmund Freud through Coldwell’s own print Temporarily Accessioned (2016).

This issue also includes the second section of the Recommended Reading list inaugurated in July. In new sections on Artists’ Books, Books About Artists’ Books, and Making, our contributors offer a sampling of their favorites. As before, this list is meant to be inclusive, incomplete and hopefully inspiring.

The profusion of print in art, and its presence in museums and galleries, whether specifically allocated as print shows or not, is reflected in the six exhibition reviews that appear here. From Dublin, Róisín Kennedy investigates the history of Irish painter-etchers of the 19th and 20th centuries, long overlooked both in Ireland and abroad until a recent exhibition at the National Gallery of Ireland. In Edinburgh, Ruth Pelzer writes on Thomas Kilpper’s new project there, cut into and printed from the floors of a former rubber factory now home to Edinburgh Printmakers. The British printer-publisher Kip Gresham was the subject of a retrospective in Cambridge, reviewed here by Jason Ions. In New York, Megan Liberty looks at Lorna Simpson’s new screenprinted paintings at Hauser & Wirth; and in London, Paul Coldwell dons another hat to assess the British Museum’s major exhibition of prints by Edvard Munch. Meanwhile, paper conservators Karen Köhler and Irene Brückle report on the pedagogic power of the print collection of the late German paper conservator Barbara Schulz (1920–2013).

Finally, this issue’s Prix de Print, selected by Judy Hecker, has been won by Bundith Phunsombatlert—the first two-time winner in the competition’s history. The work in question is a manufactured set of printed porcelain fragments, set within an archival box. It’s a work that—like the Dane Mitchell Perfume Plume on our cover—asks us to think about chains of causality and to acknowledge the incompleteness of the visual record.

Like all good art, it encourages us to see beyond what our eyes take in.