The Wichita Art Museum’s newest show walks viewers through the history of printmaking. From iconoclastic images of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. to abstract works by Jasper Johns, the collection of more than 100 prints offers a distinctive timeline from post-World War II to the present.
The show opened on Saturday.
“It’s really soup to nuts,” said Patricia McDonnell, director of the Wichita Art Museum. “There’s a little bit for every kind of aesthetic taste.”
It was not until almost the second half of the 20th century that printmaking became in vogue. This exhibit charts works in a variety of printmaking techniques, from lithography to intaglio.
The prints are on loan from Portland collector Jordan Schnitzer. The show, which debuted in Nebraska, will travel to Salt Lake City and then Missoula, Mont., after it leaves Wichita.
“The show was really well received,” said Karin Campbell, curator of contemporary art at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha. “People were excited to have this kind of energy.”
Although most of the pieces in the exhibit are from American artists, there are also works from Chinese and Japanese artists. Several works are in pairs, triptychs and larger formations. One of the highlights of the collection is a series of six Roy Lichtenstein bulls.
“They run from purely representational to total abstraction,” Campbell said. “They represent a reference of the history of printmaking.”
The six prints are double hung horizontally at WAM.
“You get to watch this bull dissolve into really lively abstraction,” McDonnell said.
The show also includes minimalist, photorealist, identity-driven art and conceptual works. Sol LeWitt’s linocuts of vivid bands of color hang alongside Robert Indiana’s geometric screen-print, “American Dream #5.” Many of the works are formed by manually or chemically etching metal or stone plates. These plates are then loaded with ink and run through a printing press with paper. Usually, each color must have its own plate. Lithographs, on the other hand, use specific crayons, pencils and chalk that replicate the image that is placed on the limestone, zinc or aluminum plate.
The prints in the collection demonstrate the dramatic evolution of printmaking, Campbell said.
Ellen Gallagher’s “DeLuxe” uses a multitude of techniques including photogravure, spitbite, collage, laser cutting and peeling, silk-screening, hand painting and sculptural additions.
“Gallagher’s ‘DeLuxe’ for me marked the future of printmaking in America,” Campbell said. “It reveals what the possibilities of printmaking are and how they can be moving forward.”
Schnitzer, Campbell said, owns one of the foremost print collections in the United States. Because of Schnitzer’s love of art and education, he has loaned these pieces, free of charge, to the four museums.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to see what has transpired in the past 50 years of American art making,” McDonnell said.
WAM painted its exhibit walls vivid yellow, electric blue, steel gray and stark white to complement many of the prints’ vibrant colors, shapes and forms.
Some of the artists’ works, as in the case of Enrique Chagoya and Barbara Kruger, are political. Chagoya sometimes uses humor to demonstrate a point, while Kruger uses advertisements in her 1985 series “We Will No Longer Be Seen and Not Heard,” which calls attention to stereotyping.
“The whole show will look very vibrant with some quite lovely pairings and juxtapositions,” McDonnell said. “Viewers will get a history lesson in the last decades of American art making.”
In March, WAM will show off Wichita’s long history of printmaking in its new exhibit, “Print and Printmaking in Wichita: C.A. Seward and Friends, 1916-1946.”
The exhibit, which will be guest curated by Seward’s granddaughter Barbara Thompson, will chronicle Wichita’s early roots in printmaking.
“In the first half of the 20th century, Wichita put itself on the map for printmaking,” McDonnell said. “This exhibit shows a little bit of the story on how Wichita became such an important pivot point in print making in the U.S.”
Starting in late March, the two print shows will run simultaneously, highlighting American print work from 1916 to present day.