BOSI Contemporary hosted an interesting exhibition of lithographs which will only be on view from January 15th till January 25th. The exhibition titled, “Love in the 21st Century,” was organized by the Estonian Lithography Center and the Consulate General of Estonia in New York. It presents unique lithographic prints created by eleven renowned Estonian contemporary artists: Kadri Alesmaa, Peeter Allik, Toomas Altnurme, Merike Estna, Kadri Kangilaski, Laurentsius, Marko Mäetamm, Mall Nukke, Reiu Tüür, Jaak Visnap, and Jasper Zoova.
Not only is the exhibition of these eleven prints intellectually captivating, it is also visually stunning. Taking risks with a “print portfolio” exhibition never looked so good. The exhibition also incorporates wall texts, which add to the high-quality works. We are all used to wall texts in educational settings such as museums, but not like these. Rather than explain the print each wall text tells a unique story. Unlike the typical dry wall texts one may find in some galleries and too often in many museums, these add an additional depth to the visual image, which captivates you to stop and read each fascinating story. I was reading stories, stories that pertained to each individual lithograph, to each artist, to each life. Finally I could understand the love on each wall, and in the context of the show. The beauty in the show lies in the subtext which is evident in the text, an oxymoron which works in the parameters of the exhibition.
Love- the emotion that recalls all the struggles through centuries of art history in which artists tried to capture the transitory feeling in visual context. The little nuances found in the prints capture that feeling: the near kiss between Diana and Luciano Pavarotti, an image of a real heart, Baltic Chain, which shows the physical manifestation of love, the image of the stepmother from Snow White who asked for the heart of the princess in a box, among many others. Opera allows us to once again be voyeurs to a kiss that we might never experience otherwise, at once private yet public. So where do we draw the line between intimacies and love as is seen in Baltic Chain? Does it go hand in hand or is it two separate entities? Each print poses a different question of what love is, which will often yield a subjective answer from each viewer. Baltic Chain, which happened to be one of my favorites, also reminded me of Egon Schiele’s drawings, in its line and color, and the fact that Schiele often explored the concepts of love and human sexuality.
The function of these prints also serves to popularize art as well as stress its educational aspects. Graphics as an art form has always held a strong position in the Estonian context, and print portfolios are regarded as prestigious and independent art objects.
“Lithography is like a religion. It’s something you believe in and follow through.” – Jaak Visnap
There is also a video playing in the back of the gallery which shows the tremendous amount of work that goes into making a lithograph. The word lithography originates from Greek, meaning “stone” and “to write,” which is exactly how these prints are made. Lithography works because of the mutual repulsion of oil and water. The image is drawn on the surface of the print plate (stone) with a fat or oil-based medium (hydrophobic) such as a wax crayon, which may be pigmented to make the drawing visible. After the drawing of the image, an aqueous solution of gum arabic, weakly acidified with nitric acid is applied to the stone. The function of this solution is to create a hydrophilic layer of calcium nitrate salt and gum arabic on all non-image surfaces. The gum solution penetrates into the pores of the stone, completely surrounding the original image with a hydrophilic layer that will not accept the printing ink. Using lithographic turpentine, the printer then removes any excess of the greasy drawing material, but a hydrophobic molecular film of it remains tightly bonded to the surface of the stone, rejecting the gum arabic and water, but ready to accept the oily ink. When printing, the stone is kept wet with water. Naturally the water is attracted to the layer of gum and salt created by the acid wash. Printing ink based on drying oils such as linseed oil and varnish loaded with pigment is then rolled over the surface. The water repels the greasy ink but the hydrophobic areas left by the original drawing material accept it. When the hydrophobic image is loaded with ink, the stone and paper are run through a press which applies even pressure over the surface, transferring the ink to the paper and off the stone. There are also more modern lithographic processes as well. I know, confusing. But once you see it being made it is much easier to understand.
Lithography became a popular medium among artists in the 19th century. In the 1820s lithography was adopted by artists such as Delacroix and Géricault. In the 1890s color lithography became popular with French artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec. During the 20th century, a group of artists, including Braque, Calder, Chagall, Dufy, Léger, Matisse, Miró, and Picasso, began making lithographs as well. Grant Wood, Jasper Johns, David Hockney, and Robert Rauschenberg are a few of the artists who have produced most of their prints in this medium.
Personally I always loved lithography because there is something very primal and hands on about working with stone. I think using natural elements in the creation of art heralds back to the drawings at Lascaux or the Venus of Willendorf. Many Eastern and Northern (Nordic) European countries have a long tradition of working with raw materials to create art because nature is a vital part of the land. I also really enjoyed the little heart logos scattered around the gallery space to represent the “Love in the 21st Century” exhibition, I thought it was an endearing and clever way of branding. Overall, the show explores the most basic human emotion, as convoluted and mysterious as it may be, love.