Ink: Notes on the Contemporary Print

Ink: New Transparency for the Tamarind Institute

Ellen Gallagher, "Wiglette" (detail) from "DeLuxe," 2004/2005. Photogravure and plasticine sheet: 13 x 10 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Two Palms Press.

Printmaking is a vital and significant aspect of contemporary art, yet there is currently very little discussion or media coverage of this medium in the press. When Art on Paper announced that it would cease publication earlier this year, a world of artists, professionals, aficionados, occasional perusers and curious newcomers were left with no dedicated source for information on contemporary prints. While this column cannot begin to fill such a void, I hope it will provide a starting point for discussion and exploration.

My love of prints began over 15 years ago, when I was an undergraduate studio major at the University of Iowa. Since then, I’ve changed focus a few times from being an artist to a museum curator, auction-house specialist, independent curator, and appraiser, but prints have always remained central to my professional work.  (For a thorough and enjoyable nuts-and-bolts tour of various printmaking methods, visit MoMA’s interactive flash feature, “What Is a Print?“)

Championing printmaking can sometimes feel like being a Red Sox fan, pre-2004 World Series title, but like that team, I think it’s due for a big comeback.  A European tradition that flourished in postwar America due to a handful of groundbreaking workshops, printmaking seems to have lost some of the momentum it once enjoyed. Aside from the occasional super-edition, such as Ellen Gallagher’s DeLuxe, few prints were able to attract serious interest in the over-hyped art world of the past decade.

Personal bias aside, this is a great time to spotlight prints for a number of reasons.  Many artists are creating them because they enjoy the process and are under less pressure to focus their energy on big-ticket works.  Likewise, collectors are more open to prints in the current economy because they are a more affordable art form.  Finally, we have entered a period in which many of the aforementioned printmaking workshops that revolutionized fine printing in the United States in the ‘60s and ‘70s have been or will be celebrating their fiftieth anniversaries [first among these, Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE) celebrated its fiftieth three years ago and will be featured in a future post].

This year is Tamarind Institute’s birthday. As with all birthdays, this passage of time is something of a shock but the milestone affords an opportunity to look back at what was originally accomplished, review the productive decades in between, and explore new directions in printmaking.  Founded in 1960 in Los Angeles by June Wayne, the institute relocated to Albuquerque in 1970 to become part of the College of Fine Arts at the University of New Mexico. Tamarind’s mission is to promote and maintain a high level of fine art lithography through training new master printers, collaborating with contemporary artists to print and publish new editions, and disseminating information and research on the medium.

Tamarind Institute. Photo: Robert Reck

Its “Fabulous at 50” festivities began with the June 30 grand opening of their new building, designed by DNCA Architect of Albuquerque. More recently, a symposium and openings for two retrospective exhibitions celebrated Tamarind’s achievements in the field. Held September 10-12, the weekend’s events were a combination of celebration, scholarly discussion, reminiscence, and technical demonstration. Symposium speakers included founders June Wayne and Garo Antreasian, artists Jim Dine and Ed Ruscha, curator Ruth Fine of the National Gallery of Art, critic Dave Hickey, and several alumni of the Master Printer Program. Director Marjorie Devon described the weekend as “an exciting culmination of what we’ve been doing at Tamarind over the past five years.”  Visit Tamarind’s Facebook page for more details.

Photo: Robert Reck

A new penthouse apartment provides comfortable accommodations for Tamarind’s visiting artists. Like most print workshops, Tamarind’s invitational fine art print publication program allows artists to collaborate with a master printer to create a small body of work. What differentiates Tamarind from others is its educational mission– students in the Master Printer Program are involved in producing publications as part of their training. Students also have a separate, dedicated workshop for experimentation (expanded in the new building). The prestigious and highly competitive program has produced a number of influential Master Printers in lithography, including Judith Solodkin of Solo Impression in New York and Jack Lemon of Landfall Press in Santa Fe.

Kiki Smith, "Afternoon," 2010. Five-color lithograph with glitter, edition of 24. 16 x 20 in. Printer: Bill Lagattuta.

Earlier this year at Tamarind, Kiki Smith completed a five-color lithograph with glitter titled Afternoon and a suite of five one-color lithographs entitled Bird in Hand. Jim Dine, Polly Apfelbaum, Willie Cole, Laurent de Brunhoff, Lesley Dill, and Nicola López have all recently created editions at Tamarind as well. Tony Fitzpatrick, Hung Liu, Sandow Birk and Valerie Hammond are a few of the artists on the coming schedule. A list of back inventory is available on Tamarind’s website and a selection will be available in their booth at the IFPDA Print Fair, November 4-7 at the New York Amory.

Kiki Smith examining proofs of "Bird in Hand" at Tamarind, 2010.

Two concurrent exhibitions in Albuquerque review Tamarind’s considerable achievements in publishing fine art editions. Tamarind Touchstones: Fabulous at Fifty, a traveling retrospective of work by artists including Vija Celmins, Kerry James Marshall, Philip Guston, Kiki Smith, Leon Golub, Jonathan Lasker, and Polly Apfelbaum shows at the University of New Mexico Art Museum through December 19. Also showing nearby through the end of December at Tamarind’s own gallery is Legacies in Lithography with work by Jim Dine, Ed Ruscha, June Wayne, Garo Antreasian, and former Director Clinton Adams.

The “Fabulous at Fifty” symposium, which provoked lively discussion of Tamarind’s history and achievements, was a continuation of its strong history of promoting knowledge, scholarship and research in printmaking. The original Tamarind Book of Lithography (1971) by Garo Antreasian and Clinton Adams was the standard manual on the subject until Tamarind Techniques for Fine Art Lithography was released in 2008-9. Authored by Devon with Master Printer Bill Lagattuta and Education Director Rodney Hamon, the new manual includes classic and updated techniques for lithography, advice about fine art storage and curatorial methods, as well as business aspects for running a professional workshop. Tamarind also requires each student to complete a research project in lithography and has published additional books and instructional videos on techniques. The Tamarind Papers, a journal published from 1974 through 1998, was a forum for critical, technical, and historical articles on fine prints. Most of these resources are available on its online bookstore.

When June Wayne founded Tamarind in 1960, lithography was a dying art form. Today its influence is global, with Tamarind-trained printers working in South Africa, Finland, and Germany to name a few.  Over the decades, these printers have collaborated with artists to push the medium in new directions and their work can be found in countless private and public collections. With the recently completed building, Tamarind is well prepared to build on its already solid legacy of training new printers to the highest standards and pairing them with artists who may or may not be familiar with its unique properties.  The resulting collaborative process keeps the art of printmaking vital and relevant, providing fresh directions for this time-tested medium.

Tamarind students, Fall 2010.