Contemporary artists employ a dazzling array of techniques and technologies to engage with and expand upon the centuries-old tradition of creating art on paper. This spring the Philadelphia Museum of Art will present a diverse selection of prints, drawings, and photographs created by artists from around the world dating from the mid-1980s to the present. The exhibition includes works that stretch existing boundaries of technique, composition, or imagery, and demonstrate the dynamic nature of artistic endeavor in the field, as well as the breadth of the Museum’s recent collecting in this area. Organized by Innis Howe Shoemaker, the Audrey and William H. Helfand Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs, Contemporary Art on Paper will be on view from February 10 through April 22, 2007 in the Berman and Stieglitz Galleries.
This exhibition presents about fifty works by artists from the United States, Europe, Asia, and Africa, mostly large in format. Many of these works have been seen in recent years only by visitors to the department’s study room, and several have not been shown in the galleries before.
“This installation provided us with an opportunity to revisit some of the exciting acquisitions the department has been able to make in recent years,” Shoemaker said, adding, “As we consider the dramatic growth of the collection in recent decades, it is particularly thrilling to look ahead to our future home in the Perelman Building where we’ll be able to show for the first time many of these very large contemporary prints, drawings, and photographs in our study room.”
The selection includes prints by Ed Ruscha, Sarah Sze, Not Vital, and Kara Walker; drawings by Heide Fasnacht, Anish Kapoor, Raymond Pettibon, and Laurie Reid; and photographs by Peter Campus, Eileen Neff, Javier Vallhonrat, and Zhang Huan.
Ruscha’s evocative, ghostlike Dog (1994) was created using the “Mixografia” printmaking technique, in which the artist burnished the profile of the dog into the surface of a wax matrix, and stippled the soft background, then impressed the foreground with an armful of tall grass cut from his own fields. The copper plate cast from the wax model was then inked, with recesses touched in by hand using lifelike shades of green, ocher and yellow, while the dog and background were rolled with black ink. The resulting image is solitary and dreamlike.
Photographer Peter Campus uses advanced computer technology to create close-up images of nature, while exercising a draftsman or a painter’s control over the composition. In burning (1992) Campus’s depiction of a bush appears naturalistic at first glance, but closer inspection reveals that the artist has created a computer generated, uniform pattern of grass, and reconfigured forms and colors to produce an image that blends the natural and the synthetic in a wholly original fashion.
Sculptor Anish Kapoor tends to use more traditional mediums such as gouache, gesso, charcoal, acrylic, ink pencil and powdered pigment in his drawings, although his work is thoroughly modern in its avoidance of neatly defined categories and subject matter. His mysterious Untitled (1988) employs soft brown washes and graphite on toned paper to create an image that may either represent a plant form or be a purely abstract invention.
The exhibition is a testament to the major influence of a grant-making program initiated by the Philadelphia-based Hunt Manufacturing Co. (now the Hunt Corporation), which ran from 1979 through 2001, allowing the Department of Prints, Drawings and Photographs to purchase works of art on paper by 103 “cutting edge” artists, most of which were shown at the Museum in two successive exhibitions in 1988 and 1996. Since the Hunt grant program was discontinued in 2001, purchases and gifts of contemporary art on paper have not abated, thanks to the generosity of individual donors.
About the Department
Housing some 150,000 works of art, the Department of Prints, Drawings and Photographs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is nationally recognized for the breadth and depth of its collections as well as the flair and scholarship of its exhibitions. The Department presents rotating installations of its vast holdings in the Berman and Stieglitz Galleries and the Julien Levy Gallery on the Museum’s ground floor and the Eglin Gallery on the first floor. Individual works are also on view in the Museum’s permanent collection galleries.