“Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder,” on display at the LeRoy Neiman Gallery, pushes the printmaking medium to its limits and literally beyond, as the prints spill into an unconventional plane.
Until Oct. 30, the gallery is staging the exhibition curated by Cary Hulbert, MFA ’16, and organized by Marie Tennyson, associate director of the LeRoy Neiman Center for Print Studies. Hulbert has brought an unusual group of artists together, including former Columbia visual arts professor Judy Pfaff, David Altmejd, MFA ’01, Director of Undergraduate Studies Nicola López, MFA ’04, Chris Ofili, and Dasha Shishkin, MFA ’06.
Hulbert’s determination to demonstrate the scope of printmaking in contemporary art is the driving force behind this exhibit. Hulbert says that one way to exemplify the contemporaneous nature of printmaking is by showcasing technological processes used by print artists.
“A lot of [the prints] are either laser cut or use digital techniques—which Nicola [López]’s do well,” Hulbert said. “Some of them have rhinestones; some of them have pearls sewn into them. They are really pushing the boundary of traditional printmaking.”
López’s laser cut prints hollow out space among silhouettes of trees, backed by warm and citrus-hued sunsets. As the material between the branches disappears from the chine-collé, an extra depth is created from shadows that dance behind the excavated print.
In the case of Altmejd, his prints combine laser cuts and upside-down, vandalized, and photographed faces, with coffee stains and rhinestones trespassing the surrounding white border. One of the upside-down faces is associate director Tennyson herself.
Ofili is famously known for his “The Holy Virgin Mary,” situating the black Madonna on a canvas of elephant dung and close-up pictures of butts. In the Neiman gallery exhibit, Ofili’s photogravures bask in mists of inky darkness that are occasionally offset by a distinctly shaped eye or figure.
In addition to Ofili’s 16 contributions to the gallery, Pfaff, who specializes in sculptural installation, offered two pieces, “...The three fishes…” and “...and the crane thought…” In awe of the visual hallucinatory effects that the prints have, Hulbert is excited to be displaying Pfaff.
“It's very loose, trippy, letting it bleed off the border, the way the frame even is a continuation of the piece itself,” Hulbert said. “It’s organic but at the same time has tons of detail.”
Like Pfaff’s psychedelia, Dasha Shishkin’s puzzle print “Hideous Potato, missed terribly, with likes and no hate” disorientates the onlooker. Made up of nine separate pieces, Shishkin’s artwork can be framed individually, rearranged into infinite options, or placed into a single portfolio.
“It's one of those works you can really get lost in,” Tennyson said. “The more you look at it, the more you figure out—maybe—what you're looking at.”
Bamboozling spectators and forcing them to get lost in a medium reputed to be mechanical is exactly the effect Hulbert desired for the show. Through exemplifying the depth and innovative charisma prints can have, the curator hopes people can see printmaking as breaking boundaries and crossing lines.
“Printmaking can often seem folky or traditional,” Hulbert said. “I chose the artists to show the students here at Columbia just how far the medium can be pushed.”
Alejandra Quintana contributed reporting.