Looking to the past and the future, the Print Center this fall celebrates old-school letterpress and youth-culture favorite screenprinting.
The letterpress show on the ground floor is a quick tutorial about Gutenberg’s 15th-century type-setting invention and its recent embrace by artists as a tool for book and print-making. The show, which rounds up letterpress books and posters from the last 35 years from private collections around Philadelphia, demonstrates the nostalgic appeal of the text-friendly medium with its inky blacks and printing-plate embossment. Letterpress skews old by definition, and Peter Hanley’s “Fuck Digital” (2009)—the print states the title—shouts the letterpress artist’s feelings about the unstoppable wave of the future.
Upstairs, two solo shows, by Isaac Tin Wei Lin and Andrew Kozlowski, push the 95-year-old center toward a more contemporary—screenprints. One “father” of contemporary screenprinting is Shepard Fairey, of OBEY and Obama fame. His where-have-I-heard-that-before credo, “just do it,”—that is, just print it up and wheatpaste it on city walls—gave screenprinting the DIY chops and street cred that appeal to many young artists. Fairey’s combination of old-fashioned technique, epic quantity and macho means of distribution is by now an established recipe.
Space 1026, where Lin was a member for many years, has original members who learned the art from the master. Lin’s installation, “One of Us,” is a commission by the Print Center, part of its new “Makeready” series about printmaking in contemporary art. It certainly follows the formula of epic quantities plus unexpected installation, incorporating 600 pink and blue prints—meant to be 3-D, and you can wear 3-D glasses—that wallpaper the gallery walls and floor, turning the space into a dazzling psychedelic cave.
Into this cave, Lin has inserted a group of painted and printed human-scale wood cutouts of cartoon cats. Walking amidst the big, friendly cats in the pretty-colored environment, I thought the whole thing would transfer nicely to the Please Touch Museum. I looked for some deeper meaning, but even with the print pattern of bent lines like bent elbows evoking Islamic script, the piece, while ambitious, is thin.
In the back gallery, Kozlowski’s forlorn prints mirror young people’s morbid fascination with the modern eco-train wreck of oil spills, melting ice caps, deforestation and the attendant loneliness and despair it brings to anyone brought up with this as the implied future. Kozlowshi’s a great drawing artist, and his works, like “Triumph!,” an image of a hand-fashioned flag on a stick waving jauntily in a fuschia sky, is ironic and fatalistic. Whose triumph it is? And whose flag? For all the print’s beautiful colors and lovely drawing, this flag might be a symbol of surrender, of the bad guy winning. Eco-themed work today is ubiquitous in the art world, but even though Kozlowski does it nicely, his irony-laced works bring nothing new to the discussion.
While prints are a niche in the art world, they’re an important one, often providing an affordable entry point to the budding art collector. If you’ve never been, this is a good time to visit the Print Center. And be sure to spend time in the gift shop, a trove of affordable prints by local artists.
Pulling from History: Letterpress
Isaac Tin Wei Lin: "One of Us"
Andrew Kozlowski: "Dear Tree Hugger…"
Through Nov. 20.
The Print Center,
1614 Latimer St.