By Caryn Coyle
The new show at the Baltimore Museum of Art is unlike any displayed anywhere in a long time. “Print by Print: Series from Durer to Lichtenstein” displays works that are rarely shown in public. The Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) has one of the most impressive print collections in the country, with nearly 60,000.
“Because of their sensitivity to light, we can’t show works on paper,” explained Rena Hoisington, curator at the BMA. “Prints stay in boxes to protect them from light and dust.”
Prints can be more expressive than other forms of art because the printmaker usually employs more than one piece to make his statement, tell his story or illustrate his point-of-view. Albrecht Durer, who is considered to be one of the most important artists in the history of printmaking, worked in the late 15th century. His prints, which date around 1490, are one of the series on display. Incredibly, all 16 of his “Apocalypse” prints, not just one or perhaps two, will be shown.
“That is not usually done. It is very unusual,” said Hoisington.
Look closely at the Durer prints. The paper is from the 15th century and the prints look like ink drawings. It is hard to imagine that all the white space on the paper is actually carefully carved from wood.
Prints were made for book illustrations, they were made for wealthy collectors “to categorize different kinds of knowledge,” Hoisington explained. One printmaker, Ludovic Napoléon Lépic, depicted the time of day and different weather conditions in his 20 etchings from the 1870s, “Views from the Banks of the Scheldt.”
The 350 prints include 29 series that are arranged thematically. Pablo Picasso’s two etchings are grouped with those representing “war.” Picasso’s “The Dream and Lie of Franco,” were created in 1937.
The “narrative” prints include Durer’s “The Apocalypse” and also show early 18th century printmaker, William Hogarth’s “A Harlot’s Progress.”
In the “design” category of prints, Sonia Delaunay’s 1930 work, “Compositions, Colors, Ideas” is the most extensive in the show: 40 color stencils. Along with Delauney’s artwork, El Lissitzky’s early 1920s prints, “Figurines: The Three Dimensional Design of the Electro-Mechanical Show ‘Victory over the Sun'” are 10 color crayon and brush and tusche lithographs with spatter and scraping.
“El Lissitzky worked in every medium,” Hoisington said. “He was a Russian artist, painter, draftsman, sculptor. He worked in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when an explosion of art work and ideas took place.”
El Lissitzky’s work shows “art can transform people’s lives,” she added. “By using abstract language, geometric shapes and primary colors, art moved into the future.”
The print show was designed by students from the Johns Hopkins University and the Maryland Institute College of Art. The undergraduates comprised a class at the museum that was offered through a collaboration between Hopkins and the BMA. The 10 students were fortunate to actually pull out and study more than 700 prints from which they chose the show’s display.
“Unless you have someone in the printmaking medium to teach the class, printmaking is not usually taught,” said Hoisington, who has a bachelor’s degree in art history from the University of Pennsylvania and a graduate degree, also in art history, from New York University.
“This is the first time a class has been allowed to select and mount a show on such a large scale,” she added.
To her knowledge, there have only been two shows in the past decade that were collaborations with students and the museum.
“Print by Print: Series from Durer to Lichtenstein” is free and opens Oct. 30. It closes on March 25, 2012.
The Baltimore Museum of Art
10 Art Museum Drive, Baltimore, Md. 21218
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday – Friday /11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Caryn Coyle lives in Baltimore. Her fiction and non-fiction have been published in more than a dozen literary journals and the anthology City Sages: Baltimore (2010) from City Lit Press.