UWM, WPCA shows highlight print history
Print exhibitions at UWM and WPCA will get you warmed up for next week's PRINT:MKE art conference.
Milwaukee will become an temporary epicenter in the printmaking world next week, when it hosts the Southern Graphics Council International Conference, aka PRINT:MKE. Events tied to the conference will span the city, with MIAD and UWM’s Peck School of the Arts spearheading the effort. But to get into the spirit of this major conference, many galleries and art venues around the city have mounted print exhibitions of their own.
The current offering in UWM Art History Gallery is a great place to start a tour of the print shows. Dürer to Dine: 500 Years of Printmaking is a condensed historical survey, rolling through the Renaissance to the late 20th century. Forty-one pieces represent many traditional methods of printmaking, including woodcut, engraving, lithography, and more.
The exhibition opens with the pairing of Albrecht Dürer’s The Virgin and Child with a Monkey, ca. 1498, and Jim Dine’s Self-Portrait Head, from 1972. Dürer, a German artist who became widely known for his exceptional craft and his blend of Italian Renaissance style with northern European detail, presents holy figures in a landscape reminiscent of the contemporary area around Nuremberg. The chained monkey, an exotic and perhaps unexpected detail, refers to sins of bodily pleasures while the bird in the hand of the young Jesus is symbolic of the human soul. Aside from the narrative richness, Dürer’s detail and technique are deeply engaging.
Taken together, these pieces effectively bookend the scope of the exhibition, representing printmaking through the course of centuries. While the works in the gallery highlight print traditions, viewers will also note dramatic changes in subject matter. The human body is one such marker, and its appearance in art reflects shifting ideas and social commentary over time. The restrained grandeur of centuries past is gradually humbled and the many quirky, ordinary, and even imperfect facets of humanity amplified.
While the UWM Art History exhibition peeks into the 1970s and then stops, a visit to Walker’s Point Center for the Arts surveys contemporary art created in a single location. La Ceiba Gráfica brings together over thirty pieces from the eponymous print workshop located in Veracruz, Mexico. Founded in 2005, La Ceiba Gráfica has become known for innovative print practices. The works on view were selected by three of the workshop’s founding members and offer an overview of the many aesthetic approaches in today’s cosmopolitan art world.
The first gallery showcases large scale pieces, a number of which play ebulliently with an energy often seen in gestural abstract painting. Patricia Córdoba’s Coatepec 1 is a notable example where the giant wave of a brush, sweeping ink onto a lithographic stone, is viscerally felt with the eyes. Córdoba’s ink lies heavily on the bottom of the sheet, while erupting on top with the energy of a solar flare. Alberto Castro creates a more restrained composition, though not without dramatic tension, in his lithograph, Figura de Pie. A foreshortened body is suggested in the play of dark and light, stretching pliably against a simple structure of haloed geometric lines.
This painterly approach is only one of the stylistic tendencies available to modern printmakers. As a counterpoint, the second exhibition room features a number of pieces that count sharp patterns and symmetrical arrangements among their compositional strategies. Lucía Prudencio is represented by a number of engaging pieces, some with a playful illustrative quality, in addition to one piece featuring an abstract floral pattern. This print is an untitled woodblock print of flowers and foliage, created by carving the image on a piece of wood. It harkens back to some of the earliest methods of printmaking, and reveals the evolution of tradition within the contemporary practices of printmaking.
Dürer to Dine: 500 Years of Printmaking continues through March 28 in the UWM Art History Gallery, Mitchell Hall Room 154, 3203 N. Downer Avenue. Gallery hours are Monday through Thursday, 10am to 4pm.
La Ceiba Gráfica continues through April 6 at Walker’s Point Center for the Arts, 839 S. 5th Street. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 5pm.
Both exhibitions are free and open to the public.