Los Angeles

Second National Invitational Print Exhibition

Otis Art Institute

As one tours the gallery, names of exotic media, such as masonite cut, color built up print, masonite intaglio, color plastic board, collagraph intaglio, color masonite intaglio, color paper relief cut, collagraph, color collage intaglio, built up print, and cellocut leap from the labels. Even the traditional media have taken on a new look. Surfaces of intaglio prints are thrown into deep relief; woodblock prints are heavily encrusted with layers of glossy ink; lithographs are printed from zinc plates, exploiting the characteristics peculiar to this substance, as well as from stone.

Some of the artists have mastered the new media (or the refurbished old ones), putting them to work to express the image. Two plaster engravings by Arthur Deshaies, Night Sea Rider’s Love and Night Sea Rider’s Labyrinth, are singularly impressive; and June Wayne’s zinc plate lithograph, Second Hero, presents a welcome freshness. Mauricio Lasansky’s El Maestro and Gabor Peterdi’s Stone display highly successful, though disparate, treatments of the familiar metal plate intaglio. However, many of the exhibiting artists are still too fascinated with the mechanics of the new media, and they fall into the trap of making the medium an end in itself instead of the vehicle it should be.

The few etchings, woodcuts, lithographs, and serigraphs that are rendered conventionally fade beside their slick and dazzling companions. In the case of the tired, traditional treatment of an uninspired image, this may be a blessing. But it seems unnecessarily tragic when prints of merit suffer merely because their rendering is subtle, delicate, and classic. Two superb etchings by John Paul Jones, placed among surrounding swaths of brilliant color, huge formats, and gimmicky busy-work, are scarcely visible from a distance of ten feet. Rudy Pozzatti’s engraved Musicians and etched Ruins suffer the same fate. At close range (and is this not, historically, the established vantage point for viewing prints?), these few subtly treated prints provide welcome relief.

Relative to this is a general insensitivity to the installation of print exhibitions. To see prints matted in cheap board that has buckled on the walls, and displayed against vari-colored cloth hangings that detract from, rather than enhance, the prints, is discouraging to say the least. All-rag matboard is expensive and may be beyond the means of galleries that present numerous exhibitions, but prints don’t have to be matted, and there are several methods that could be used to display the prints in an atmosphere of quiet dignity.

The uneven quality of the exhibition may be partially explained by the fact that there was no “weeding out” of prints submitted by the invited artists; whatever was submitted was hung. Furthermore, the list of participating artists deviates considerably from the standard list of established artists included in most national print shows. This courageous approach has its virtues: new artists are introduced to the public, and established artists are (hopefully) jarred into the realization that they cannot get away with reusing the same old tried and tested image forever. But it also has its faults: Some artists of major importance are omitted (or perhaps they were invited, but did not submit), and some artists of dubious quality are included.

It seems legitimate to challenge the entire basis of the exhibition, that is, “. . . To display the many styles and techniques used by those who work in the graphic medium today . . .” While such an exhibition may encourage artists to experiment with new media, is this worth the shot in the arm it gives to the gimmicky print?

Virginia Allen