The Edvard Munch exhibition at the National Gallery (through November 28) is a must see. Even if you are not a fan of Munch, and I must admit I find his work to be extremely uneven, the exhibition presents a fascinating selection of his graphic works and a powerful exploration of his complex working methods. Munch was nothing if not a highly ideosyncratic print maker. He regularly combined multiple techniques together: sometimes using planographic, intaglio and relief techniques on the same print. He also would add color to work using hand-coloring or stenciling and would use uncarved tonal blocks in which the grain of the woodbloock itself played both a coloristic and expressive role. In addition to more traditional a la poupee inking technqiues, he would also cut his blocks into pieces, jigsaw fashion, in order to allow them to be inked individually. Finally, he rarely, if ever, decided on a final state or version, often radically rethinking (or remaking) the works in the process. Many of these features can be found in the most powerful works in the show. Images like Towards the Forest II, Two Women by the Shore, Vampire II and The Kiss all represent triumphs of both artistic expression and artistic experimentation and the exhibition and accompnaying catalog do a great job in tracing both the aesthetic and technical aspects of Munch’s work.
Category Archives: Exhibition Review
Portraits in Piety: Women Saints and Women Religious from the John Thatcher Collection at Howard W. Gunlocke Rare Book and Special Collections Room of the Georgetown University Library (7 September-22 October 2010) is a fascinating exhibition of books in the vernacular concerning female Catholic piety. Acquired in 2009 by the library, the Thatcher Collection consists of nearly 1,500 books dating from the sixteenth to the mid-twentieth century and includes many rare volumes, some of which are held by no other American libraries. A large number of the the books in the exhibtion are“Lives” (Vite in Italian, Vides in Spanish and Vies in French), spiritual histories of notable religious women often written by their confessors or spiritual advisers and sometimes published in order to advance their case for sainthood (or beatification) or to promote their family, hometown or the order of which they were a member. Most of these Vite include at least one image in which the subject of the life was depicted in the act of devotion. In the exhibition most of the volumes were displayed so that these images were visible, allowing the visitor to consider the iconography of such female devotion. Two particularly striking images were an engraving from the life of Suor Veronica Giuliani, published in Rome in 1763, in which the illustration of her being visited by an angel was loosely modeled on Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa and an engraving from the life of one Suor Maria Columba Scaglione, published in Naples in 1756, that depicted her adoring a crucifix with printed images of the Immaculata and St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata pinned to the wall behind her. As a group, these fascinating images, together with the texts that they illustrate, allow the viewer (together with scholars who can study the material in greater depth) to better understand the construction, promotion, and reception of female Catholic piety.
The exhibition Woodcuts Now at the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) presented an interesting selection of new uses for what is perhaps the oldest printmaking technique. For me the highlights of the show were the works of Christiana Baumgartner, Mel Kendrick, and Chuck Close. Baumgartner’s works were particularly impressive and looked like giant wood engravings even as they were based on stills from her video pieces. Close’s color woodcut, made with Karl Hechsher, raised many interesting questions of facture as its multi-colored appearance imitated Close’s paintings amd was apparently produced by the use of both stencils and a matrix which had been cut apart jigsaw-fashion with the pieces being inked individually.. Finally, Kendrick’s work had an impressive sculptural quality that also drew attention to the matrix and its production, as the marks of the wood itself as well as saw marks were clearly visible in the print.
During a recent trip to Boston I was lucky enough to catch two wonderful exhibitions at the Museum of Fine Arts: Cafe and Cabaret: Toulouse-Latrec’s Paris (through August 8, 2010) and Albrecht Durer: Virtuoso Printmaker (through July 3, 2010). The two artists are amnong my favorite printmakers and the works and impression on display in both exhibtions were uniformly wonderful. The Durer exhibition presented numerous quality impressions of Durer’s most famous works in all media, but the highights of the exhibtion for me were the opportunity to look at a number of Durer’s experiments in etching and the presence of two of his drypoints including the masterful St. Jerome. Seeing the more experimental etching and drypoints in the context of Durer’s masterly use of the engraving and woodcut media, gave one an appreciation for Durer’s artistic mind. In particular,I welcomed the opportunity to see Durer struggle with etching in works such as the Angel with the Sudarium and, perhaps more successfully if less metaphorically, in the Landscape with the Cannon.
The Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition was also interesting, combining a number of works by the title artist with those of his contemporaries. Having seen the impression held at the Baltimore Museum, it was a real treat to see no fewer than 3 impressions of the Loie Fuller lithograph. Other highlights by Lautrec included the Englishman at the Moulin Rouge and Aristide Bruant in his Cabaret, while works by his contemporaries completed an interesting exhibition which both captured the spirit of the Paris of the day and emphasized the unique nature of Toulouse-Lautrec’s vision and technique.
William Stanley Hayter is a printmaker’s printmaker and a key figure in the history of 20th-century printmaking even if few casual art fans know much about him. Hayter was born in England, but came to fame in Paris where he set up the workshop Atelier 17. Atalier 17 was dedicated to hands-on artistic experimentation in engraving and etching and he introduced many contemporary artists to printmaking including Max Ernst and Joan Miro. During World War II, Hayter moved to New York; there he taught at the New School for Social Research and reestablished Atelier 17. In New York he again introduced printmaking to the artists active there, most notably Jackson Pollock. He then returned to Paris where he perfected the technique of viscosity printing, which allowed him to create multicolored, op-art-like prints using only one etched plate rather than multiple plates in register.
The exhibition at the National Gallery,which was drawn from the Gallery’s holdings and the collection of Ruth Cole Kainen (widow of artist Jacob Kainen), provided a thorough and engaging overview of the artist’s work. In his earlier surrealist works, one was struck by the control which he demonstrated over the burin in his engravings as well as the power of the images themselves. Additionally, Hayter’s pre-war works were makred by a high level of artistic experimentation and he often used soft-ground etching to create textured effects by embedding various objects into the ground. The post-war works are perhaps even more impressive not only for their coloristic expression, but also for the technical sopphistication. Other highlights of the exhibition included examples of prints by artists taught or influenced by Hayter as well as on of his matrices, which he sometimes would exhibit as reliefs.
On the whole this was a thrilling, beautiful and thought-provoking exhibtion. My criticism, however, regards the curators’ decision to intentionally omit any discussion of techinique. Hayter’s works are so technically accomplished that they seem to demand such a discussion. Moreover, my suspicion is that the casual visitor would like to know (and as importantly would learn from) a basic dicussion of techniques such as soft-ground etching, engraving and viscosity printing. Such an understanding would not detract from the visitor’s appreciation of the prints, but would likely increase this appreciation both of Hayter’s work and prints more generally.