October 1st, 2010 by Sarah Kirk Hanley
Ellen Gallagher, “Wiglette” (detail) from “DeLuxe,” 2004/2005.
Printmaking is a vital and significant aspect of contemporary art, yet there is currently very little discussion or media coverage of this medium in the press. When Art on Paper announced that it would cease publication earlier this year, a world of artists, professionals, aficionados, occasional perusers and curious newcomers were left with no dedicated source for information on contemporary prints. While this column cannot begin to fill such a void, I hope it will provide a starting point for discussion and exploration.
My love of prints began over 15 years ago, when I was an undergraduate studio major at the University of Iowa. Since then, I’ve changed focus a few times from being an artist to a museum curator, auction-house specialist, independent curator, and appraiser, but prints have always remained central to my professional work. (For a thorough and enjoyable nuts-and-bolts tour of various printmaking methods, visit MoMA’s interactive flash feature, “What Is a Print?“)
Championing printmaking can sometimes feel like being a Red Sox fan, pre-2004 World Series title, but like that team, I think it’s due for a big comeback. A European tradition that flourished in postwar America due to a handful of groundbreaking workshops, printmaking seems to have lost some of the momentum it once enjoyed. Aside from the occasional super-edition, such as Ellen Gallagher’s DeLuxe, few prints were able to attract serious interest in the over-hyped art world of the past decade.
Personal bias aside, this is a great time to spotlight prints for a number of reasons. Many artists are creating them because they enjoy the process and are under less pressure to focus their energy on big-ticket works. Likewise, collectors are more open to prints in the current economy because they are a more affordable art form. Finally, we have entered a period in which many of the aforementioned printmaking workshops that revolutionized fine printing in the United States in the ‘60s and ‘70s have been or will be celebrating their fiftieth anniversaries [first among these, Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE) celebrated its fiftieth three years ago and will be featured in a future post].
This year is Tamarind Institute’s birthday. As with all birthdays, this passage of time is something of a shock but the milestone affords an opportunity to look back at what was originally accomplished, review the productive decades in between, and explore new directions in printmaking. Founded in 1960 in Los Angeles by June Wayne, the institute relocated to Albuquerque in 1970 to become part of the College of Fine Arts at the University of New Mexico. Tamarind’s mission is to promote and maintain a high level of fine art lithography through training new master printers, collaborating with contemporary artists to print and publish new editions, and disseminating information and research on the medium.