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Eye Exam: Printmaker’s Delight

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Carol Wax, "Writer's Blocks," mezzotint

By Steven Wirth

If you happen to be curious about the current state of affairs in the wide world of printmaking then look no further than the forthcoming Southern Graphics Council’s annual conference hosted by Columbia College and Anchor Graphics from March 25–29. Established in 1972, the Southern Graphics Council, or SGC as it is commonly called, is the largest print organization in North America, and each year its annual conference is the largest celebration of printmaking of its kind.

The conference itself means many different things to many different people:there are those in the academic community that see it as an opportunity to get away from the print shop and catch up with old friends; the open portfolio sessions are popular with younger artists interested in showing off new work and catching the eye of prospective graduate schools; and the myriad exhibitions and panel discussions attract the focus of many outside of the printmaking community seeking to bask in one of the more homogenized spectacles of visual culture (this year’s keynote speakers include Kathan Brown, Enrique Chagoya, Anne Coffin and Jane Hammond, and each evening abounds with gallery openings throughout the city).

For my own part, I have always embraced SGC as an opportunity to compare and contrast the rich historical implications of the multiple with printmaking’s increasingly influential position in contemporary art and culture (which is to say that there is a lot of large talk out there about the “democracy of prints”: prints do this and prints do that—it is always nice to push past the hyperbole and see some prints in action). Printmakers have a reputation for being overly technical and slightly old fashioned in their preference for process over concept, but the trend in recent years has been to sully these misrepresentations through conference themes that greatly extend the theoretical reach and cultural import of the medium. This year the conference activities will centralize around the theme “Global Implications,” and given the current state of world affairs (as well as the very palpable fear and uncertainty currently lodged in the heart of our country), should offer a pointed examination of printmaking’s alleged flexibility and relevance in the face of an ever-evolving world.

Michael Barnes, "MArsenal II," lithograph

Michael Barnes, "Malignant Arsenal II," lithograph

The conference’s events and panels are centralized around Columbia College (see here for details), but many, many free exhibitions dedicated to prints have filled the city. Here are some of the highlights:

The International Print Center New York juries an exhibition four times a year in Chicago. The Winter session includes over fifty prints at the conference’s ground zero, Columbia College Exhibition Space, 1006 S. Michigan Ave., through March 31

The University of Wisconsin’s art department, Fresh Hot Press, publishes small-edition prints with visiting artists. The focus of the of this four-person alumni selection is tactility, from scratch-and-sniff and blind embossing to 840 layers of ink—and one of the perks of printmaking is its affordability. Through March 28 at Western Exhibitions, 119 N. Peoria St.

MaxMultiple” is a treasure trove of an exhibition with more than 100 prints and small edition objects by some of Chicago’s rising stars: Cody Hudson, New Catalogue, Jessie Mott, the Franks, and tons more. Through April 1 at Devening Projects + Editions, 3039 W. Carroll Ave.

Flatfile Galleries closes its doors with this final exhibition dedicated to printmaking. “Paper/Ink/Press” runs through March 27 at 217 N. Carpenter St.

Without You I am Nothing: Cultural Democracy from Providence and Chicago” embodies how prints have traditionally been a user-friendly medium, passing through hands and pasted on walls to disseminate information. Opens March 27 at Green Lantern Gallery, 1511 N. Milwaukee Ave, second floor

Sandow Birk and Nicola Lopez show large woodcuts depicting a contemporary take on the tragedies of war. Through March 31 at the Rymer Gallery, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 280 S. Columbus Dr.

Becoming Edvard Munch” highlights the Expressionist’s life-long love affair with printmaking, and its relation to his paintings. Through April 26 at the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Ave.

“The Ceramic Print” showcases innovative printmaking techniques on ceramic sculpture. Through March 30 at Lillstreet Art Center and Hummingbird Press, 4401 N. Ravenswood Ave.

Ce n’ est pas un spectacle de caractères” is a print group show including Chris Uphues, Karen Savage, Teresa Mucha James, and many more. Through March 28 at Packer Schopf Gallery, 942 W. Lake St.

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