Both are very much worth seeing but different in nature. The Harnett Biennial might be considered a gauge of current printmaking activity in America. Cultural, technical, and thematic influences are diverse, and overall, the strength of the images is significant. On the other hand, "Natural Selections" could be thought of as a standard bearer. It focuses on images produced from a Massachusetts studio where national, international and emerging artists are hand-picked by master printmaker James Stroud, and quality and quantity are highly controlled.
For the Biennial, Caraccio chose prints produced with almost every imaginable printing process. Many are a product of combined processes. One of the most dramatic examples of work made with more than one process is by Oregon resident Yuji Hiratsuka, who combined intaglio (an image carved into a plate, usually metal, and sent through a press) with chine colle (a printed image on delicate paper transferred to a sturdier support via a press) in "PJ's Dream." In it, a single figure represented in an exaggerated traditional Japanese pictorial style, is given a modern, edgy sensibility. It contorts with anxious aggression, as if struggling with the burdens of its cultural history.
Caraccio's inclusion of photographic and digital media in the Biennial demonstrates more than any other print show this season how technology is affecting the art form. Jeanette Bokhour's abstract image "Untitled (Theatrics 2)," vaguely described as an inkjet digital print, is as provocative for its unknown origins (i.e. film, paint, or computer program) as it is for its erotically suggestive shapes. It's an enigma that may represent the future of printmaking.
Some of the 10 artists featured in "Natural Selections" (which include UR art teachers Tanja Softic and George Whitman) experiment with technology, yet the tradition of creating only limited editions is honored throughout. "Natural Selections," loosely organized with the theme of landscape, brings together artists who may not work principally as printmakers but who have found a means of translating their imagery onto plates. That's thanks to James Stroud, director of Massachusetts' Center Street studio.
Naturally, the fluid work of traditionalists Bernard Chaet and Nell Blaine translates quite well to printmaking, but even the transformation of the quirky plastic forms of abstractionist Bill Thompson into a swollen, two-dimensional shape hovering over a horizon makes sense here. Center Street is preserving printmaking traditions and at the same time allowing old and new disciplines to merge organically. One hopes this merge also represents the future of printmaking. S
"Natural Selection" at Joel and Lila Harnett Museum of Art and "2006 Harnett Biennial of American Prints" at Joel and Lila Harnett Print Study Center, both at University of Richmond, run through June 24. Visit museums.richmond.edu for more information.