POUGHKEEPSIE, NY — In the 1940s and 1950s, some of the most influential Abstract Expressionist painters in New York also ventured into printmaking, the often complicated and time-consuming medium not easily given over to the immediacy that these painters cherished. Before long the improvisational, personal styles fostered by these artists, among them Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline, inspired peers across the country to make their own exploratory paintings and prints. Additionally, with the rise in the 1950s of competitive print exhibitions and printmaking study in colleges, prints steadily became more numerous and visible in the U.S. to collectors, art editors, gallery directors, and the general public.
American printmaking accelerated dramatically in the 1960s, overrunning introspective abstractions and largely replacing them with imagery inspired by a commercially-driven culture: from newspapers and magazines, to advertising, Hollywood stars, and everyday objects. Interestingly, a new abstractionist movement also began to emerge, exemplified by the paintings and sculpture of Frank Stella; through their minimalist geometric abstractions, devoid of overt emotions or personal feelings, these artists sought to express the "objectness" of their works. Painters and printmakers responded vigorously to the vibrant atmosphere of this period, and placed a heightened emphasis on the print, encouraged by a plethora of new art presses and publishers.
The new exhibition Presses, Pop, and Pomade: American Prints Since the Sixties, thirty-six works presented by the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center from its permanent collection, taps into this printmaking explosion, and examines the medium's continuing importance to new artistic movements, including realism in the 1970s, expressionism in the 1980s, and identity politics in the 1990s and early 2000s. Presses, Pop, and Pomade will be exhibited January 13-March 19, 2006, in the museum's Prints and Drawings Galleries, with the generous support of The Smart Family Foundation, Inc.
"Through these works, most of which the Art Center is exhibiting for the first time, we are spotlighting an array of printmaking processes and media, including screenprint, lithography, etching, aquatint, woodcut, monotype, and the artist's book," explained Patricia Phagan, the Philip and Lynn Straus Curator of Prints and Drawings. "These combined pieces also span the influential art presses and publishers of the past forty years, without whom this printmaking revolution would not have flourished, including Original Editions, Factory Additions, Marlborough Graphics Inc., Cirrus Editions, Gemini G.E.L., Universal Limited Art Editions, Landfall Press, Parasol Press, and Crown Point Press."
Presses, Pop, and Pomade is organized chronologically, with the entire first gallery focused on the 1960s. Iconic, figurative works by Andy Warhol (Marilyn, 1967), Roy Lichtenstein (The Melody Haunts My Reverie, 1965), and James Rosenquist (See Saw, 1968), three major figures of the Pop Art movement, share space with spare abstractionist prints. In the latter pieces, by Josef Albers (DRb, 1968), Ad Reinhardt (5 (from the portfolio Ten Screenprints), 1966), Frank Stella (Point of Pines, 1967), and Helen Frankenthaler (Weather Vane, 1969-70), the artists concentrated on the formal properties of the materials with which they worked.
The centerpiece of the room is Warhol's Marilyn, from a portfolio he issued in 1967. This screenprinted image of the internationally popular movie star Marilyn Monroe is one of the most enduring personalities in the popular imagination of the tumultuous Sixties. Warhol, like other Pop artists, fused this image and others from popular culture onto paper and canvas, elevating them from tabloid and newspaper status to fine art standing. Likewise, Lichtenstein adapted imagery and technique from cartoon strips for The Melody Haunts My Reverie, another heralded screenprint of this era.
Among the 1970s prints highlighted in the exhibition's second gallery, pop images continue to be culled, alongside further developments in abstraction, a robust new emphasis on figuration, and a new realism. Robert Rauschenberg (Opal Gospel, 9 American Indian Poems, 1971-72), Jasper Johns (Decoy, 1971), Jim Dine (Black Beard, 1973), and Larry Rivers (The Boston Massacre, 1970) all incorporated images from the everyday world in creating their prints on exhibit. Ellsworth Kelly relied on shape, color, the size of the paper, and their interplay in his Untitled, a 35 3/8″ x 27″ lithograph from 1973. Other formalists, such as Richard Serra, with his Circuit (1972), and Vija Celmins, with her untitled print of the same year, relied on shapes, lines, and various qualities of papers to conjure an almost tangible presence of the real world.
That real world, with all of its hectic pace and numerous passengers and walkers-by, is satirized by Red Grooms in his frenzied Taxi Pretzel, from 1971. Juxtaposed to it is another lithograph, the otherworldly Tudor (1976) by Chicago Imagist Ed Paschke. The Seventies also saw an emergence of a photography-based realism, perhaps seen with most clarity in the work of Richard Estes, whose print Cafeteria (1970) is exhibited.
The third (and last) gallery of Presses, Pop, and Pomade gives special attention to the 1980s, and includes even more recent prints. California abstract painter Richard Diebenkorn is represented by a color woodcut, Ochre, from 1983, while the work of the figurative Massachusetts printmaker Michael Mazur is seen in Vine Tree Winter III (1985), an expressionist landscape in monotype and pastel. A new figurative expressionism was extremely prevalent in the Eighties, and is also shown in prints by Richard Bosman (Besieged (from the portfolio The Atelier Project), 1986), David Salle, and Julian Schnabel (Untitled (from the portfolio Tod: Cage Without Bars), 1983). Salle's untitled working proof is an aquatint from his 1981 series, Until Photographs Could Be Taken from Earth Satellites.
The following decade of printmaking in the U.S. saw even more sophisticated forays into abstraction and figuration, sometimes combining them to explore issues of personal and cultural identities. Among these artists, Presses, Pop, and Pomade exhibits Louise Bourgeois (Stamp of Memories II, 1994) and Ellen Gallagher, who literally incorporated hair pomade into Duke (2004), her identity-driven photogravure of African-American men.
Exhibition Event/Printmaking Demonstration
In conjunction with the exhibition Presses, Pop, and Pomade: American Prints Since the Sixties, visiting assistant professor of art Richard Bosman will hold a printmaking demonstration on Monday, February 6, 2006, 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., in the Print Studio (room 206) of the Doubleday Studio Arts Building on the Vassar College campus. Bosman's 1986 print Besieged is among the works featured in the exhibition. For further information, contact Kelly Thompson, coordinator of public education and programs at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, at (845) 437-7745.
About the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center
The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, with collections of more than 15,000 works, charts the history of art from antiquity to the present. The 34,000-square-foot Art Center, designed by Cesar Pelli and opened in 1993, features approximately 350 works at any given time in its Permanent Collection Galleries. Notable holdings include the Warburg Collection of Old Master prints, an important group of Hudson River School paintings, and a wide range of works by major European and American painters of the twentieth century. The Art Center is the successor to the Vassar College Art Gallery, which was begun in 1864, making Vassar the first U.S. college founded with a permanent art collection and gallery.
Admission to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center is free. The Art Center is open to the public Tuesday-Saturday, 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., and Sunday, 1:00-5:00 p.m. Located at the entrance to the historic Vassar College campus, the Art Center can be reached within minutes from other Mid-Hudson Valley cultural attractions, such as Dia:Beacon, the Franklin Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt national historic sites and homes, and Olana, the Frederic Edwin Church home. The Art Center is wheelchair accessible. For more information, the public may call 845.437.5632 or visit fllac.vassar.edu.