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Red Cross, about 1990-91, Arnulf Rainer

BOSTON, MA.- Though richly varied in style, content, and medium, works on view in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), exhibition New Works: Prints, Drawings, Collages share a common thread: they are recently acquired (by purchase, gift, and bequest) and boldly inventive, created by cutting-edge American and European artists. More than 30 prints, drawings, and collages, made from 1960 to the present, are featured in the show, offering an exciting kaleidoscope of images. Many are newly created by emerging artists, such as Tara Donovan, Christiane Baumgartner, Michael Oatman, and James Siena; others are by their more well-established predecessors, including Jasper Johns and Claes Oldenburg. These works were acquired by the Museum’s Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs during the past six years and all will be shown at the MFA for the first time. New Works, on display in the Clementine Haas Michel Brown Gallery from July 28, 2010, through May 1, 2011, is presented with support from the Benjamin A. Trustman and Julia M. Trustman Fund and the Susan G. Kohn and Harry Kohn, Jr. Fund for Contemporary Prints.

This exhibition reveals the inexhaustible vitality and diversity of the art of our time,” said Malcolm Rogers, Ann and Graham Gund Director of the MFA. “It also highlights the continuing generosity of the Museum’s donors, who made the acquisition of these works possible.”

New Works offers a dynamic interplay among the prints, drawings, and collages created by 22 artists. There are 21 prints on view, reflecting a wide range of traditional techniques—woodcuts, engravings, etchings, lithographs, aquatints, and drypoint—used in untraditional ways. German printmaker Christiane Baumgartner combines her interests in printmaking and video art to establish a dialogue between the old and the new. She creates monumental contemporary works using woodcut—one of the oldest forms of reproduction—to produce images of modern technology. Baumgartner photographed from a television screen World War II footage of vapor trails of Allied bombers, then translated those images onto plywood she cut by hand, from which she printed the large-scale works Trails I and II (2008). American painter James Siena also chose to work with another traditional (and inflexible) print medium—engraving—for his Upside Down Devil Variation (2004), an image of crystalline forms evoking nature’s patterns and mathematical calculations in its rhythmic repetitions.

In contrast, Swedish-born American sculptor Claes Oldenburg draws upon his pop taste for enlarging common objects to monumental scale for his etching and aquatint Colossal Tea Bags in City Square (1976), an imagined monument featuring three upright tea bags. New Works also features prints created with shaped plates that constitute an essential part of the meaning of the image: the cross-shaped plate of Austrian painter Arnulf Rainier’s dramatic drypoint Red Cross (about 1990–1991), and Swiss artist Markus Raetz’s tranquil aquatint, an anonymous seascape seemingly viewed through binoculars, titled Gaze (2001). Untitled (Private Collection, 1995), by renowned American artist Jasper Johns (lent to the MFA for this exhibition), is at once a collage and a still life. It brings together the artist’s meditations on time, illusion, and artistic styles, often drawing upon personal references, including a photograph of Johns’ paternal grandparents and objects from his own art collection, such as a Barnett Newman drawing and a George Ohr ceramic piece.

“The emphasis here is on the staggering variety of direction, inventiveness, and possible meanings in contemporary art, setting a mood for the viewer that I like to call, in a positive sense, ‘creative confusion’,” said Clifford S. Ackley, Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Curator of Prints and Drawings and Chair of the Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at the MFA, who organized the exhibition together with Patrick Murphy, the Department’s Lia and William Poorvu Curatorial Research Fellow and Supervisor of the Morse Study Room.

The unrestrained creativity of artists in the exhibition is characterized by works by Americans Tara Donovan, Bruce Conner, and Terry Winters. Donovan’s Untitled (2008) seems to be a unique print, but she chooses to call it a “glass drawing.” The electrifying work is made from a large, shattered pane of glass, which has been inked in black and pressed onto paper, where it appears literally as an image of broken glass, or figuratively as lightning against a night sky. Conner’s imaginative drawing All in a Garden (1981) highlights his Rorschach-like ink blot technique of folding paper vertically multiple times, upon which he creates India ink designs that are blotted to produce a field of suggested images—insects, hieroglyphs, or flowers. Abstract forms also are on view in Winters’ graphite drawing 7-Fold Sequence, Two (2008), which is part of a series called Knotted Graphs, where the “knots” are intertwined lines of negative space within black nodules that seem to be simultaneously coming together or breaking apart. The fourth drawing in the show is Gerhard Mayer’s Untitled, Nr. 290 (2005), a swirling image by the German artist, drawn with abstract, mechanical precision.

Seven collages are also included in New Works. For his large-scale virtuoso piece, American artist Michael Oatman cut some 200 vintage illustrations from encyclopedias and magazines, which he adhered to a spray-painted background. His Exurbia (more leisure time for artists everywhere) (2004) offers a busy pop-culture fantasy of a retro future with colorful satellites, astronauts, and rocket ships, fixed on land and floating in space. Pure abstraction is evident as well in the exhibition, ranging from the bold, geometric black-and-white works created in 1961 by American artist Ralph Coburn, who used cello-tak adhesive film on paper, to the colorful plastic tape collage by Judy Pfaff, Study for Prototypes (1978), which served as a sketch for an early room-size installation project.

Other artists featured in New Works are American painter Steve DiBenedetto, Swiss artist Dieter Roth, Ethiopian-American painter Julie Mehretu, American collagist Maritta Tapanainen, British painter Frank Auerbach, Danish painter Asger Jorn, American sculptor Ruth Asawa, American printmaker Alan Shields, and American artist Mathew Day Jackson.

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Exurbia (more leisure time for artists everywhere), 2004, Michael Oatman