Mediation and Multiplicity

Article excerpt

Karin Breuer, Ruth E. Fine, and Steven A. Nash. Thirty-Five Years at Crown Point Press: Making Prints, Doing Art. Exh. cat. Los Angeles: University of California Press in association with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1997. 204 pp., 235 color ills., 30 b/w. $29.95.

Trudy V. Hansen, David Mickenberg, Joann Moser, and Barry Walker. Printmaking in America: Collaborative Prints and Presses, 1960-1990. Exh. cat. New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with Mary and Leigh Block Gallery, Northwestern University, 1995 248 pp., 96 color ills., 82 b/w. $65.

Linda C. Hults. The Print in the Western World-An Introductory History. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1996. 948 pp., 49 color ills., 706 b/w. $65.

Gilbert Kaplan, ed. Surrealist Prints. New York: Atlantis, 1997. Essays by Timothy Baum, Riva Castleman, and Robert Rainwater. Dist. Harry N. Abrams. 160pp., 57 color ills., 70 b/w. $45.

Joseph Ruzicka, ed. Landfall Press: Twenty-Five Years of Printmaking. Exh. cat. Milwaukee: Milwaukee Art Museum, 1996. Essays by Vernon Fisher, Jack Lemon, Mark Pascale, and Joseph Ruzicka. Dist. D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers. 220 pp., 93 color ills., 98 b/w. $65.

Susan Tallman. The Contemporary Print from Pre-Pop to Postmodern. New York: Thames and Hudson, 996. 304 pp., 161 color ills., 173 b/w. $50.

In May 1970, the British artist Richard Hamilton placed a camera before his television set and captured an image of a student protester mortally wounded by U.S. National Guard troops in Ohio. From that photograph, he produced a haunting color screenprint, Kent State, in a massive edition of five thousand. Joining the great tradition of Francisco de Goya, Honore Daumier, Kathe Kollwitz, and others who have used prints to denounce violence and social injustice, Hamilton also drew attention with this work to the rapid broadcast of images in a postmodern world-"from event to camera to satellite to television to camera to print" (Tallman, 67). With its qualities of mediation and multiplicity, the fine-art print suited his purposes perfectly; for these reasons, too, it has assumed a new status in recent years, as the modernist preoccupation with originality gave way to a withered aura and widespread acceptance of previously despised commercial processes such as screenprint and photo- and offset lithography. In the nineties, color photocopiers, computer scanning equipment, laser printers, and electronic billboards offer artists unprecedented potential for creating, combining, editing, multiplying, and distributing images. But there is more: revivalists of individual "expression" have continued to embrace the woodcut for its primitivist associations, as well as venerable intaglio techniques to satisfy an eager market. Approaching the end of the century, prints constitute "a special hybrid," in Richard Field's words, "that negotiates the slippery interface between Modernist and PostModernist practices."'

Accompanying the current interest in prints old and new is a spate of books and exhibitions exploring aspects of the history of printmaking in the United States and Europe.2 Though the bulk of this literature focuses on the twentieth century, art historians who have felt ill-equipped to teach the history of printmaking now have a tremendous asset in Linda Hults's encyclopedic yet highly readable textbook, The Print in the Western World: An Introductory History. Hults gives significant emphasis, and rightly so, to Albrecht Durer, Rembrandt van Rijn, Goya, Pablo Picasso, and Jasper Johns. Yet hers is not a history of great artists. The social function of prints, the role of publishers, printers, collectors, and technical innovations, as well as the impact of religion and politics, all receive weighty consideration. Proponents of the new art history will appreciate the complexity of this approach, which is hardly new, however, to print historians, since the objects of their study have always seemed more intricately embedded in socio-economic webs than unique paintings or sculptures. …