Philagrafika: Our international print festival

Filling in spaces, lifting spirits

Klingberg’s ‘Brand New View’: Like Christo in Central Park.
Klingberg’s ‘Brand New View’: Like Christo in Central Park.

Philagrafika 2010 is the world's biggest print show, and all of it in our backyard. It's here for us to enjoy, savor and possibly even to learn something about the myriad ramifications of printmaking. This is it: the Alpha and Omega of printed art today.

Since this citywide project is too vast to embrace all at once, I recommend starting with the exhibition of artists' etchings with variations from Cindy Ettinger's studio on view in the second floor hallway of the Pennsylvania Academy's Hamilton Building. From there, head to the Print Center, where you'll confront our contemporary employment of the print media to disseminate useful information such as sex education for the masses or visual references to stimulate animal protection programs. Then end on a high note by visiting the galleries at the Moore College of Art for a sparkling, fun exhibition that gives you a whole new view of printmaking.

Shining lights of the art world are among the 25 artists included in the Ettinger studio selections from the past decade. It's a wonderful aesthetic experience to see their work together: prints that are the products of collaboration with a gifted printmaker who knows all the potentials of the medium and who asks each artist at the beginning of their collaboration, "What are you trying to say?"

In Rembrandt's tradition

Look for Astrid Bowlby's series of six prints in different states, created from one copper plate, leading to the final etching, Round robin: dark rime. Although it's visually very different from a Rembrandt, it's in the same working tradition.

Daniel Heyman's memorable images of man's inhumanity to man are timeless, beyond Iraq throughout history. "When will we ever learn?" he asks. This is printmaking today: a focus in search of a goal.

Marilyn Holsing's etchings with aquatint in three or four colors seem primitive at first glance. But look again. She zeroes in on foibles that are part of our social consciousness. They are fun, clever and pleasant to look at.

Sarah McEneaney's etchings with aquatint reveal people, places and objects from her life. Beneficial Bath looks so inviting that you just want to jump in the tub with her.

Bill Scott prints complex compositions of color and forms, alluding to nature but rarely defining it. Among my favorites was Landscape with Trees II. Anne Seidman's Untitled aquatint in eight colors (2009) and her Untitled etching (2004) are vibrant non-objective prints that lift one's spirits.

A restless rest room

This exhibition illuminates the continuity of a traditional medium; now we must broaden our vision at the Print Center, one of five sites of the official Philagrafika 2010. Here the space has been transformed by Philadelphia's Space 1026 from a traditional gallery format into places for the viewing, production and dissemination of printed matter.

A cozy tent in the second floor front gallery offers a video production that might not be so tranquil. Prints by Sue Coe, upstairs in the rear gallery, seem indelibly stamped in my memory; and Eric Avery's restroom installation is anything but restful.

Mexican artist Erick Beltran has installed an on-site printing project with images for the viewer's selection. Does this elevate every participant into a creative seer? Or does it indicate how erroneous conclusions can be easily formed, and eradicated only with difficulty?

At Moore: Chuckling, and itching

The projects on view at Moore will lift your spirits and make you chuckle— and perhaps itch— at the same time. Here five artists, using the tradition of pattern and design in architecture, textiles and wallpaper, have created new ways of viewing printed images.

Begin with Paul Morrison's 40-foot-long exterior wall on 20th Street. Black-and-white images of trees, shrubs and even a giant tulip seem to have sprung from the sidewalk cracks. It uproots our basic assumptions about mural painting on city walls and delights the imagination.

Virgil Marti's window on Race Street can be viewed day or night. Its reflective silver Mylar wallpaper shimmers as the mirror-lighted balls turn above the huge faux fur stool. Titled The V.I.P. Room, it is Marti's sardonic commentary on art dealers' inner sanctum for their coddled collectors. Now, look again at the patterning of the wallpaper: Instead of floral patterns, you're gazing at skulls and bones"“ not quite what first meets the eye. Is this Marti's commentary on art, society and materialism?

Entering the building, you encounter Gunilla Klingberg's bright orange vinyl patterns, which cover the windows and doors. Logos and patterns from daily life have been transformed into exotic abstractions. Their bright orange color has the same effect of lifting one's spirits as did Christo's Flags in New York's Central Park. It gives us hope on a gray day.

Modern-day plague

One entire gallery is devoted to Regina Silveira's installation, Mundus Admirabilis and Other Plagues. The entire space is covered with huge vinyl insects in black on white, as well as screen printing on porcelain and embroidery on fabric: everyday insects crawling, polluting our lives and symbolizing the contamination pervading our environment. Here you should don the special shoe covers provided to protect the art-covered floor. You might feel uncomfortably itchy, but you'll become aware of our contemporary plagues, ably presented by this Brazilian artist.

Betsabeé Romero, from Mexico City, has re-cut the treads from old tires, creating images of birds, then printing them on sheets of translucent paper that rise to the ceiling as if in flight. It lifts the spirit just to see what can be done with materials considered useless to daily life.

José Roca, the artistic director of Philagrafika, and John Caperton, Sheryl Conkelton, Shelly R. Langdale, Lorie Mertes and Julien Robson are the Co-curators of The Graphic Unconscious, a major aspect of Philagrafika. Don't miss any of it.♦

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