Galleries: Printmaking's everywhere, and this festival shows it
By Edith Newhall, For The Inquirer
In its three venues besides the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, Philagrafika 2010’s main exhibition, “The Graphic Unconscious,” offers more dramatic examples of printmaking’s omnipresence in contemporary art. At Moore College of Art & Design, Tyler School of Art’s Temple Gallery, and the Print Center, the notion - proposed by Philagrafika artistic director Jose Roca - that printmaking has infiltrated our unconscious, and therefore much new art, without our fully taking stock of it is borne out in so many works that you have to smile. Even if Roca and his fellow curators were looking for the most spectacular, Alien-like bursts of print invasion to support this premise, the print’s ubiquity is unquestionable.
Moore’s chief curator, Lori Mertes, has focused on the print at its most expansive.
In the hands of Virgil Marti, a Philadelphia-based artist, a large space has been transformed into a profoundly lonely one. Marti has turned the gallery facing Race Street into a living room where no one lives, papering the walls with silver Mylar printed with patterns of skulls and bones and placing a faux-fur-covered ottoman front and center.
Similarly, but less subtly, Brazilian artist Regina Silveira suggests a cavernously empty space, this one a Kafkaesque nightmare most people would want to escape. She has covered the walls and floors of Moore’s Goldie Paley Gallery with digitally printed vinyl cut-outs of immense insects of all kinds. Thinking of starting a diet? She’s also set a table in the center of the room, of insect-printed porcelain dinnerware on a matching tablecloth.
A long corridor gallery has been given over to Betsabeé Romero, of Mexico City, who carves her own patterns of flying birds into old car tires, then inks and rolls them across long strips of translucent paper to produce prints. Here, Romero’s prints are suspended from the ceiling, with their corresponding tires on the floor for gallerygoers to examine. The physical sensation that Romero creates-of delicate beauty and gritty found object being too close for comfort - isn’t as dramatic as Silveira’s huge bugs crawling everywhere, but it is remarkably visceral.
The most obviously pop-influenced works - austere ones - belong to British artist Paul Morrison, who has created a mural on Moore’s 20th Street exterior wall, a stenciled landscape of found images of trees and flowers that looks as if it is growing up from the edge of the sidewalk, and to Gunilla Klingberg of Stockholm, whose plotter-cut orange vinyl appropriations of logos from big-box stores such as Target and Kmart are arranged in a mandala pattern on the enormous windows framing Moore’s front entrance.
The show organized by independent curator Sheryl Conkleton for Temple Gallery stretches printmaking and the definition of printmaking about as far as it can go.
You’re greeted by the work of the Danish team Superflex, in this case at a worktable where accommodating Tyler students are fashioning cube-shaped hanging paper lamps after famous copyrighted lamps. The only printmaking references here are the photographic images of the lights, which are produced on-site by a digital printer and used to create each lamp’s sides.
Next up is a video of Thomas Kilpper’s State of Control, in which this German artist and his team are shown carving a matrix for a series of prints into the floor of the former German Democratic Republic’s Ministry for State Security. The series, which eventually covered a warehouse-size expanse of floor, traces the history of surveillance in East Germany from the Nazi era to the present. One print from the series is the largest known print in the world.
Francesc Ruiz’s facsimile of a Philadelphia newsstand with newspapers whose humorous front pages he designed is an incredibly well- made, clever piece; it’s also the perfect intersection of printing and contemporary art. The same could be said for the Seoul-based team Young Hae-Chang Heavy Industries’ large-scale projection of a text that narrates the experiences of three South Korean misfits who take a train trip to an amusement park, except that it fuses the printed word (as animated type) with music in a contemporary-art video.
Barthélémy Toguo’s Heartbeat puts found printed materials to new use. The Cameroon- and Paris-based artist has covered the floor of his designated space with flattened cardboard fruit boxes and the walls with newspapers (including this one) whose type he’s blacked out, leaving only photographs. Where Ruiz’s Newsstand speaks of information overload, Toguo conjures info-bombardment.
(Carl Pope, from Indianapolis, and New York’s Swoon, both also part of Temple’s show, will show their printed works in various locations in North Philadelphia.)
The Print Center’s curator, John Caperton, has assembled the most intimate and approachable show of the three exhibitions; he also has managed to include by far the most artists in the smallest of the three venues. It’s a little crowded upstairs, but that goes with the festive atmosphere.
Even the three largest works here seem to aspire to a cozier appreciation. Temporary Services, a Chicago-based art collective, has created a “reading room” featuring the fifth in its Temporary Conversations series of booklets, plus a full collection of their publications. Eric Avery, a Texan who also practices psychiatry, has papered the Print Center’s bathroom with his cartoons instructing in the use of male and female condoms. Erick Beltrán, based in Barcelona, has created a circuit-shaped worktable on which his cards printed with photographic images can be assembled à la Eameses’ House of Cards game.
Philadelphia’s Space 1026 collective seems to be channelling Sister Parrish and the Fabric Workshop and Museum’s gift shop in its most recent yurt, its interior a much more inviting, finished-looking space than that of the one it made for the ICA a few years ago.
Even the dark work of Sue Coe, a British-born, New York-based printmaker and animal rights activist who is the best-known of the artists represented here, seems playful in this company. Her woodblock print of forest animals roasting and boiling Pilgrims for a Thanksgiving feast is a gruesome delight.