Print/Out: 20 Years in Print is the Museum of Modern Art's highly anticipated survey of a medium that is versatile, rooted in history, and appears to have no limits. Chief Curator of Prints and Illustrated Books Christophe Cherix displays works by more than forty artists in a salon style show with prints literally installed from floor to ceiling. If stunning the viewer with hundreds of prints ranging in size, content, and execution is what Cherix set out to do, then surely this mission was accomplished.
A curator is faced with the task of creating a common denominator amongst included works, a theme or idea that the viewer must interpret. In Print/Out the differences, ambidexterity, and individualism of the numerous printmaking methods are what bind the show. Many of the works are steeped in conceptual ideas such as Martin Kippenberger's Content on Tour which is an appropriation of an appropriation. He uses printmaking as a means to an end, sometimes cutting and slicing his own prints to make paintings. Others refer to and question the history of the medium, inventing new techniques for age-old processes such as Jacob Samuels creation of the first portable aquatint box (1996).
Printmaking began as a mechanized way to produce multiples, an idea that lends itself to portability and affordability, but Cherix has made it clear that editions are no longer a requirement for this medium. In fact only two editions, in entirety, are included in this show, Kara Walker's Safety Curtain (1999) and Damien Hirst's The Last Supper (1999). Walker's series highlights her preoccupation with paper cut-out style grotesque yet humorous imagery focusing on slavery. Hirst's is a pop-art series of large colored silkscreens of fake food labels. Both artists created a suite of images, editions comprised of many different prints. All of the intended images from the series are represented at MOMA, but are easy to miss for they are spread out amongst the hundreds of works on the entire sixth floor.
With such a mishmash of prints, and with the large amount of them on display, smaller intimate works are easy to miss, but are worth noting. For example Julie Mehretu's Untitled (2004) from the Landscape Allegories series. This etching is an exploration of line and shape, referencing both nature and mathematics. It resembles a topographic map overlaid with imagery derived from nature. It is a traditional print, using multiple layers and transparent inks to achieve a broad range of color and tone, and is one of an edition of seven. The print is technically stunning and seems fragile and airy.
The more classic methods of printmaking are juxtaposed with installations of groups such as Superflex, who held a particpatory workshop where the viewer can construct a hanging lamp with pre-printed photographs. General Idea's group project, Magic Bullet (1992), is also a memorable non-traditional take on reproducibilty and distribution. Hundreds of silver pill-shaped balloons imprinted with their logo fill the ceiling' skylight space, but only as long as the helium's lifespan. Viewers are invited to take home any of the piece's fallen soldiers, an interesting comment on the intended portability of the print.
While many of the historically rooted prints included in the show seem to be overpowered by bigger installations, and even the gallery walls themselves which were covered in Benday dots, Cherix's decision to display the many modes of printmaking in a salon style exhibit with prints covering nearly every inch of the exhibition shows that there is not one correct or preferred way to make a print these days. Equal opportunity is given to all of the modes of making. The show examines the many possibilities of a medium that is often pigeonholed as outdated and uninventive. By having a medium-specific themed show, the viewer leaves not thinking of an inner dialogue about what it all means but with a visual cornucopia of images and a greater idea of the unlimited possibilities that can be found under the umbrella of printmaking.