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Small Wonder

UR presents some of the best examples of works on paper from the last 500 years.

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The University of Richmond Museums are bustling with artistic activity this fall, putting on a host of interesting and unique shows. One such show, "Lasting Impressions," features prints, drawings and photographs from the permanent collection in celebration of the five-year anniversary of the Joel and Lila Harnett Print Study Center (formerly the Marsh Art Gallery).

About 100 pieces were chosen to highlight the collection, which consists of more than 6,000 objects. Though there are no overarching themes governing what was selected, what's on display are some of the best examples of works on paper from the last 500 years.

The exhibition takes place in two parts. Upstairs, the Print Study Center focuses on five artists all well represented by the collection. From the Italian baroque, Stefano della Bella's drawings and etchings are masterful in their sense of movement and action and wonderful in their delicacy. His small etchings of human forms are perfect for the study center, because they were created as reference material to be used by other artists.

A wonderful contrast is set off by the work of American J.J. Lankes and German Hans Friedrich Grohs. Contemporaries who used woodcut, these artists created vastly different bodies of work. As Grohs looked back through history with a stark graphic style, Lankes focused on the American landscape with a sensitive and illustrative manner. The craftsmanship and execution of both artists are undeniable, showing a range of possibility with one of the oldest printmaking techniques.

Downstairs, the Pickles Gallery provides a survey of the collection as a whole. Works-on-paper collections are notorious for being vast, making such survey shows difficult to curate. By keeping it simple and working chronologically, organizers of "Lasting Impressions" present a reductive showcase of some of the high notes not only of works on paper, but also art history as a whole. Themes begin to emerge naturally as one experiences the show.

Notions of apocalypse in Albrecht Dürer's "Monstrous Pig of Landser" from 1496 feed into the six etchings chosen from Francisco de Goya's "Disasters of War" and Avel deKnight's ink drawings of black soldiers. Themes as diverse as fame and entertainment, quietness and mortality, are subtly suggested by the placement of the objects in relation to one another by the unseen hand of the curator.

Unfortunately, "Lasting Impressions" is able to provide access to only a small fraction of the permanent collection, leaving one to wonder what other treasures may be hiding among the 5,900 other pieces. S

"Lasting Impressions: Celebrating the Fifth Anniversary of the Joel and Lila Harnett Print Study Center" runs through Dec. 8 at the Modlin Center at the University of Richmond. For information, visit museums.richmond.edu or call 289-8276. S

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