Chris & I were fortunate enough to go check out an exhibit in LA on Saturday. It was called Gouge: The Modern Woodcut 1870 to Now, at the Hammer Museum. We noticed an ad for it in one of the local weeklies and snipped it hoping to catch it after the install. In a borrowed car we made it over to Westwood, an affluent area of LA, where the Hammer Museum resides, part of UCLA.
Gouge: The Modern Woodcut 1870 to Now examines the woodcut in terms of its diverse forms and uses in the modern era. A thematic survey, it invites parallels between the medium in countries as diverse and geographically distant Mexico, France and Korea. Woodblock printing is, in fact, one of the most common artistic practices throughout the world. Although the motivations of each artist and the circumstances in which the woodcuts were made may differ greatly, the visual character of the gouge cuts is a defining thread among the selected works in this exhibition
There were a handful of really inspiring prints and original woodblocks alongside the pieces. Chris became really stoked when he realized there were some Kathe Kollwitz prints in the show. He is a real big fan of her work, so he studied her self-portrait and the Woman in the Lap of Death, 1921, Woodcut for quite some time.
Along with the German Expressionist work that I enjoyed seeing in person was some Gaughin, Matisse, and Munch pieces that i found really inspiring. I wasn't entirely surprised but excited to see the familiar likeness of Zapata printed on grey paper. I immediately knew it was a print from one of the ASAR-O artists from Oaxaca. The print was made during the APPO uprising yet strangely made it into the Images in the Grain section and not the following room, The Voice of the Activist.
Created with accessible and low-cost materials, woodcuts offer the artist in most parts of the world the freedom to work independently. The examples gathered here, whether from Mexico, Germany, Korea, or elsewhere, all carry the weight of the artist’s hand and mind, and in them we encounter a new monumentality in size and message.
Some of the examples of "political" prints are from groups and movements that are represented in Josh MacPhee and Dara Greenwald's exhibit Signs of Change, that is on view in Pittsburgh right now.
One of my favorite pieces exhibited is Elizabeth Catlett's
Sharecropper made when she was working with the Taller de Grafica Popular (TGP) in Mexico. Its a really beautiful and powerful portrait.
There were some beautiful large size prints, after the Cuban revolution began,
like Carmelo Gonzalez Iglesias' The Pseudo-Republic and the Revolution(detail left). This and Latin America, Unite!(below) by Luis Peñalever Collazo appear to have been the impetus for the exhibit and are impressive illustrations and narratives of the Cuban struggle, much like a Rivera or Siquieros mural. These images were used even more publicly, than their Mexican counterparts, by being made into banners and wheatpasted in the streets, according to Mark Vallen, on Art for a Change
Many of the examples of contemporary printmakers that I would hope to see selected for such an exhibit were absent, work from Antonio Frasconi, Swoon, the Taring Padi collective, and so many other folks could have given this exhibit a little more depth.
Tho I was happy to see a piece by Artemio Rodriguez, and we did walk out of the museum incredibly inspired. It was only the heavy rain and typical LA traffic that kept us from getting out to make some of our own public art.
Mark Vallen has a post, from November, on his Art for a Change blog about the exhibit. And you can view a video produced by the Hammer, mostly interesting for its stills of the pieces.