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AAM’s Multiplicity exhibit inspired look at printmaking

12/5/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Roger Durbin

Shown is a work by Jim Dine in the Akron Art Museum’s Multiplicity: Contemporary Prints from the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Photo courtesy of the Akron Art Museum
DOWNTOWN AKRON – The Akron Art Museum (AAM) has a large and inspired exhibit on display through March 16 called Multiplicity: Contemporary Prints from the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

There are more than 80 works on display in five rooms on the second floor of the museum, pieces that reflect clearly on the expansive title of the exhibit. One example is the variety of processes or techniques used to create an image on a matrix (or prepared surface like wood, metal plate, limestone or stretched fabric).

The processes used are explained on a handout that is available in a bin on one of the entrance walls and that is there for all viewers to use as they wander through the exhibit. Grouped as intaglio (which covers such techniques as engraving, etching, aquatint, spit bite and the like), as relief prints (which refers to things like woodcuts, linoleum cuts, metal relief and others) and as planographic (which includes lithographs, screen printing, monoprints and more), the didactic helps viewers understand the plentitude of options that artists had. Wandering through the exhibit focusing on this aspect is a treat enough for visitors.

Several important artists are represented in the exhibit, like Chuck Close, Jim Dine, Helen Frankenthaler, John Cage and others, all of whom worked with professional printers to realize their artistic vision. As an aside, the collaborative way of working says something about their artistic careers that most viewers might not realize in other exhibits or settings.

Dine’s unique monoprint woodcut, called “Singing and Printing I,” is one of a series of the same printed image playing on the idea of the Venus de Milo, a famous artistic image over the years. In his specific way of doing things, though, he hand painted the rendered image on each one in the series, thereby making every one slightly different and distinct from the one before. One may think of prints being the same in a numbered series; Dine explodes that notion.

Interesting as well is the variety of subject matter that these artists have explored through the print medium — from some politically inspired works like Barbara Kruger’s women’s issue theme in “Untitled (We Will No Longer Be Seen and Not Heard)” and Kara Walker’s alternate look at slavery and racism in America by redoing some magazine images in her prints based on “Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated), 2005” to the abstraction seen in Terry Winters’ linoleum cut on paper called “Rhizome” and Al Held’s color aquatint and etching on paper called “Almost There.”

There are some incredibly eye-catching works on display, such as John Buck’s two works, “Father and Son” and “Red Jesus.” The images and style are similar — seeming like silhouettes around which are smaller, totem-like images that seem heavy with meaning. Mary Heilmann’s “Mint Boy,” a color aquatint with spit bite on paper, is an abstract piece in an array of shimmering rectangles. The work is filled with a sense of motion.

On opening night of the exhibit, Nov. 22, the museum had some new and fun things going on. First was a specialty micro-brewed beer for the occasion created by Thirsty Dog. Also, there were art students from The University of Akron and Kent State University who were skilled in some of the techniques seen in the exhibit. They made prints that were given to patrons. It was a good opportunity to see the various processes in action. These were nice touches to make the opening event more significant.

Allow about an hour and a half for viewing the exhibit.

There are many programs planned associated with the exhibit. For details, visit www.AkronArtMuseum.org.

The AAM is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays and all major holidays. Adult general admission is $7, student and senior (65 and older) admission is $5, and children (17 and younger) and members are admitted for free. Admission to the galleries is free every Thursday.


Roger Durbin is professor emeritus of bibliography at The University of Akron and an avid art enthusiast. To contact him, email r.durbin@sbcglobal.net.

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