Louise Nevelson, "Untitled"
Through April 2, 2012, Norton Simon Museum of Art, Pasadena
by Jeanne Willette
When the entirety of the Pacific Standard Time (PST) exhibitions are assessed, it will probably be concluded that the small focused shows were far superior to those which mimicked the urban sprawl of Los Angeles. Such is the case for "Proof: The Rise of Printmaking in Southern California," an excellent history of printmaking in Los Angeles. In just three rooms, the curators present the results of a labor of love on the part of a few dedicated people in the 1960s: June Wayne of Tamarind Lithography Workshop, Sidney Felsen and Stanley Grinstein at Gemini GEL, and Tatyana Grossman at Universal Limited Art Editions. What the PST shows have demonstrated is the stunning varieties of art making in Southern California in comparison to the obsession with painting in New York. When asking the question, "what was the value of post-war printmaking?" some observations can be made on the basis of "Proof."
Louise Nevelson, "Untitled," 1967, lithograph, 32 x 46".
First, most of the artists are instantly identifiable - their prints were extensions of their paintings. The velvety "Ocean" seascape of Vija Celmins is something of a trademark, as is the exquisite faces of a wistful child printed by Charles White. Josef Albers never left New Haven while his a series of beautiful and intensely colored prints of his" Homage to a Square" series were being pulled, leading to the second observation: printmaking is a collaborative process. The trust that Albers and other New York artists had for their California printers underscored a counterbalance to the myth of the artist as lone genius. Building on his transfer works of the sixties, Robert Rauschenberg seemed to gain a whole new direction in his art with the beginning of the magnificent "Boost" series (1967) and his "Cardbird" series of the early seventies. Ed Ruscha’s experimental prints, such as his "Pepso-Bismol" and caviar version of the Hollywood sign, helped shape his career.
Most intriguing are the three dimensional prints. "Sawdy" by Ed Kienlholz is a familiar but complex print, based on the "Five Car Stud" installation recently presented at LACMA, limited to the scaled down window of a Datsun car door. Claes Oldenberg also worked with a car, the Chrysler Airflow, in " Pacific Airflow," a cast-polyurethane relief over a lithographed grid pattern - a process so complicated that only one per day could be printed. In an homage to Marcel Duchamp’s "The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even," the composer, John Cage, did a series of eight screenprints on glass, each printed with random word fragments reflecting on his friend’s name and works, and slotted into a neat wooden base - prints en valise. The most iconic and ironic work as a “print” is Bruce Connor’s "Thumb Print," where a lone mark of his inked thumb floats in a white field thumbing its nose at what he thought were the pretensions of this new iteration of printmaking in Los Angeles.