NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ.-
In the 1890s, inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement and Japanese ukiyo-e color prints, American artists began turning to the oldest of printmaking techniquesthe woodcutto create visually complex, color saturated works. Following in their footsteps, major American artists throughout the 20th century to the present day, such as Jim Dine and Helen Frankenthaler, created dazzling, ambitious works that revolutionized ideas about color woodcut printing.
The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Museum
at Rutgers celebrates the achievements of American artists in the woodcut technique from September 1, 2009 to January 3, 2010. To tell the story, Blocks of Color: American Woodcuts from the 1890s to the Present assembles more than 100 woodcut prints, drawing primarily upon the Zimmerlis own rich print collection with selected loans from gallery and private collections.
Since the 1960s, when American printmaking enjoyed a surge of interest from both artists and collectors, color woodcut printmaking has become an important way of working for contemporary artists, says Suzanne Delehanty, Director of the Zimmerli. As a teaching institution, our museum is incredibly fortunate to have in its collection many rare historic prints that provide an aesthetic and social context for considering recent work.
Among the rarest of the examples on view in Blocks of Color is Bridge over a Stream, Ipswich (1893-1894) by Arthur Wesley Dow, the leader of a vanguard group that began experimenting with woodcuts at the turn of the last century. Dows evocative image, proportioned vertically in a manner similar to many ukiyo-e prints, depicts a scene in rural Massachusetts with the oblique views and flat picture planes of Japanese landscapes. Dow often printed the same composition using different color combinations, creating several unique works of art with a single printmaking matrix. The method of painting with woodblocks, in which Dow would instruct his students, helped instigate the rise of the technique among American printmakers during the first quarter of the 20th century.
Among this next generation were Helen Hyde and Bertha Lum, two artists who defied Western convention to travel alone and set up studios in Japan. There, rather than doing their own carving and printing, they made woodcuts in the traditional Japanese manner by collaborating with other workshop artists. Rare prints by both artists are represented in the exhibition, Hyde in some depth with seven works.
Women artists across the country greatly contributed to the achievement and wider exposure of color woodcut printmaking in the early decades of the 20th century. As well as Hyde and Lum, the exhibition brings to light the work of such artists as Frances Gearhart and Edna Boies Hopkins, who summered in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and helped to make the area an innovative center for color woodcut printmaking.
Another notable artist represented in the exhibition is Blanche Lazzell, who has been called one of the unsung geniuses of early American Modernism. To exemplify her innovative skill in woodcut, the original woodblock on which she carved the landscape West Virginia Hills (1919) will be displayed alongside the lovely early impression print she inked from the block. Other Lazzell works reflect her awareness of Cubism and the abstract styles that would become increasingly strong forces in American art beginning in the 1940s.
The large-scale Classical Horse and Rider (1953) Seong Moy is among a number of intricately layered abstractions featured in the exhibition that exemplify this move toward abstract art by color woodcut printmakers: here Moy overlays energetic, broad sweeps of ochres and browns and slashes of red and blue with forms suggesting Chinese calligraphy.
In the contemporary section, Blocks of Colors presents prints by Helen Frankenthaler, Jim Dine, and Richard Diebenkorn, who, with many of Americas most important artists, chose to experiment with color woodcut printmaking, pushing its technical boundaries and using it to express their most current ideas.
The use of woodcut to vanguard ends continues up to recent decades, including Donald Judd and other artists working in a Minimalist style. The exhibition features several series of color woodcuts as a means of exploring pure geometric form and color. On view will be one of Donald Judds last editions, created in 1992, where precise rows of parallel white lines alternate with broad stripes of cadmium red. Sherrie Levines subtle grids in her Meltdown series (1987) resulted from the artists use of computer technology to reduce four paintings to their essential colors, which were then translated onto square woodblocks of equal size. Also on display will be recent work by Polly Apfelbaum, Richard Bosman, Francesco Clemente, Alex Katz, Robert Mangold, Michael Mazur and Dan Walsh.
In both the exhibition and accompanying public programs, we hope to convey how American artists have been galvanized by the woodcut processfrom the earliest experimentations of Alfred Wesley Dow to prints being created today, says Christine Giviskos, Associate Curator for Nineteenth-Century European Art at the Zimmerli. Giviskos, with Marilyn Symmes, Director of the Museums Morse Research Center for Graphic Arts and Curator of Prints and Drawings, organized Blocks of Color: American Woodcuts from the 1890s to the Present.