Prints. PrintsPrintsPrintsPrintsPrints.

Bruce Brown, independent curator and former director of the Center for Maine Contemporary Art (CMCA), recently noted (in a panel about printmaking, in conjunction with a show he did about Maine printmakers) that the Maine art world this season has been all about prints. My season has been no exception.

Two shows at my own museum, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, have been about prints. The first, Fantastic Stories: The Supernatural in Nineteenth-Century Japanese Prints, focuses on the presence of ghosts and supernatural beings in gorgeous, hyper-colored, intricately-patterned Japanese woodblock prints. (On view til March 3rd)

The second, which I worked on more extensively, is a memorial exhibition to David Becker, a ’70 Bowdoin alum, print collector/curator/scholar, and extremely generous donor to the museum. Between his gifts and the bequest of his estate (he died in 2010), the Bowdoin Art Museum received 1500 artworks from him, mainly prints. And among the prints are absolute masterpieces: from fine, early impressions by Dürer, Rembrandt, Parmigianino, and Piranesi, to contemporary prints by Jim Dine, Elizabeth Murray, and Kiki Smith, and everything in between. To capture just the tip of the iceberg of these diverse riches in an exhibition of about 80 prints, it was decided (before I arrived) that the show would be organized by letters of the alphabet, each representing a theme, and was titled Printmaking ABC: In Memoriam David P. Becker. As the name suggests, the themes would introduce some of the techniques of printmaking (L for Lithography, W for Woodcut), but also take on thematic subject matters that were well-represented in Becker’s collection, because they were dear to his heart (A for Alphabet – he loved writing manuals and typography, another layer to the appropriateness of the show’s organization; P for Political Activism, T for Trees).

As part of the three-person curatorial team at BCMA, I was extensively involved in deciding what the themes would be and which prints would be in the show (though those two processes were reversed), and then writing texts for certain groupings. Through this, I now know the difference between various printmaking processes – knowledge I did not previously possess.

Hung in clusters by theme, on rich saffron-colored walls, the show looks great. We’ve only received positive feedback thus far, including in a guestbook that has been very actively used, inviting those who knew Becker to reflect on his legacy. There will also be an event on January 31st and February 1st, a two-day symposium of major print scholars and friends of Becker, that will do just that.

The biggest drawback to the show is that there’s just too much there: the prints are rich, small, intimate, detailed, and there are so many of them. Becker was all about close-looking and this show rewards that, but one can only do so much of it. Focusing on the whole of the show, I feel even I haven’t done the kind of intimate looking these prints deserve; when I do, I still find things I’m surprised by. I live with it everyday, and I don’t think I’ll be able to really absorb it all by the time it closes, on March 24th.

I mentioned a print show curated by Bruce Brown: I am referring to Prints: Breaking Boundaries, at the Portland Public Library, sponsored by the Center for Maine Contemporary Art. The explores the ways contemporary Maine printmakers are moving beyond traditional printmaking techniques, incorporating collage, assemblage, installation, three-dimensional surfaces and other supports, and digital printing.

The panel discussion, also mentioned above, that accompanied the show included three artists from the exhibition: Adrienne Herman (a Smithie, like me!), Karen Adrienne (confusing, isn’t it?), and Damir Porobic. The most interesting point that came up in their discussion was that with the increasing hybridization between the various visual arts, the constantly emerging new combinations of media, printmaking is escaping its perhaps once inferior position among them.



Another Bruce Brown print show up in Maine now is Dorothy Schwartz: Evolution of a Printmaker, at the Maine Jewish Museum in Portland. She is also a Smithie, and the wife of a former music professor at Bowdoin. I plan to check out the show this Friday during the Portland art walk. I’ll let you know what else is of note!

Email or Username. Password.

You know it’s been awhile since I’ve posted when I see this screen:

Screen shot 2013-01-26 at 9.48.24 AM

Oh dear.

My personal life has kicked up a tick and so I’ve been busy. But I also have this weird block.

When you work full-time in a museum, of course it limits the amount of time you can spend going to other museums, galleries, exhibitions, lectures, et cetera. But still, I have been doing all those things. I’d say I’ve been pretty active in that regard, as much as is possible. But I never think to write about these things, the way I do when I’m in New York. What’s different? No, it’s not that when I’m in New York I’m on vacation, and have more free time (though maybe it’s those things a little bit).

I’m in Maine. And the Maine art scene, though active, is quite regionally focused. Maine artists are Maine artists. The nationally-recognized artists we love and love to show (from Wyeth, Homer, Hopper and Wegman, to Katherine Bradford and Lois Dodd) all come to Maine.

This presents a challenge to me, as I want this blog to address both a general audience, and a more mainstream contemporary (read: New York-based) art world. I fear being seen as provincial, though I’m guessing it’s more my own prejudices (read: snobbery) holding me back, than the ones I perceive in my audience.

There is also a more justified fear: the Maine art world is SMALL. There is the very real possibility that, in being as honestly critical as I would like to be, I could offend someone I run into at every event, and could need to work with. I know that if I was really involved in the New York art scene, that would still be the case. I just imagine New York artsters (yeah, I just made that up – deal with it) to have thicker skins; perhaps because I imagine them criticizing each other, publicly and privately, all the time. Maine art criticism tends to be pretty “Ra! Ra!” It also seems to be judged on a different standard than the mainstream art world; it’s just generally a more conservative market (in terms of media, content, etc.).

I suppose this rant is my way of alerting you, my readers, and myself, to the fact that I will attempt to write more about what I’m seeing and doing here. Time and energy for writing is still a factor; but another block is that my posts have tended towards the fully formed exhibition review. I need to kick myself into a more casual, brief, observational/informative style.

I also hesitate to write about what’s going on at my own museum, for fear that it would seem promotional or that I might reveal something I’m not supposed to. But, it is also high time I start to share some of my own curatorial work, now that I’m actually getting to do some! More on that later

A Chelsea Misadventure

Just after Christmas, wary of the frankly insane tourist crowds at the New York museums, I went with a few friends, including an artist who is generally knowledgable about these things, to Chelsea… where nearly every gallery was closed: some were between shows, others may have been closed for the holidays, and it could be that some were still recovering from Sandy.

We only went in one gallery – Cheim & Reid, for a show of the Israeli-born, Copenhagen-based painter Tal R. I’d heard his name but not seen his work before. He has a colorful, intentionally-naive style that at first seemed a little out-of-date – as in early twentieth century – but that grew on me. I thought it worked better in his more geometric works than the figurative ones, but those grew on me too. His paintings rewarded prolonged looking, as their compositions are more complex than they first appear.

Tal R, THE SHLOMO, 2011

Tal R, THE SHLOMO, 2011

Screen shot 2013-01-06 at 8.55.08 PM

After our lack of art-viewing, we went to a cafe for a protracted conversation about art theory.

I have one more New York art experience from my vacation to relay – a visit to the Museum of Arts and Design in Columbus Circle… coming soon.