From Whistler to Warhol: Modernism on Paper

  • Exhib_slideshow_31434__pollock

    Jackson Pollock, United States, 1912-1956, Untitled, 1951, Screenprint, Edition of 25, Gift-Purchase. Craig F. Starr Associates and the John Levas Fund, 2009 (31434),© 2009 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

  • Exhib_slideshow_stella

    Joseph Stella, Born Italy, Active United States, 1877-1946, Abstraction, 1919, Pastel on paper, Purchase. The John Levas Fund, 2009 (31433)

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February 18, 2010 - July 03, 2010
Henry R. Luce Gallery (28)

Exhibition Overview

When Anna Rice Cooke founded the Honolulu Academy of Arts in 1927, she donated a core group of works of extraordinary quality whose variety reflected her mission to present art resonant with the diversity of modern Hawaii. Included in this inaugural gift were numerous European and American prints and drawings, for work on paper was an integral part of the museum’s original program. Over the years, the Academy’s prints and drawings collection has grown to over 15,000 objects, most of which date from the mid-19th and 20th centuries. In an unprecedented move, the Academy presents a major exhibition of 100 masterworks from these modernist holdings, including a number of unpublished and rarely exhibited examples, as well as a selection of important recent acquisitions.

Beginning with the American painter-printmaker James McNeill Whistler, the exhibition traces the history of modernism on paper to show how this technically variable, readily portable, and easily disseminated medium proved supremely adaptable to the avant-garde spirit of experimentation.  It shows how Whistler pushed the limits of etching to elevate its status to that of painting, and how his lead was followed by many of his European contemporaries—among them the impressionists Camille Pissarro and Edgar Degas; and the symbolists Odilon Redon, Edvard Munch, and Paul Gauguin—all of whom likewise took printmaking beyond its illustrative function. They also asserted drawing as a primary medium, establishing the graphic arts—printing and drawing—as independent modes of expression. 

The exhibition continues into the early 20th century, when the cubists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, the German expressionists Emile Nolde and Käthe Kollwitz, the surrealists Max Ernst and Joan Miró, and the American modernists John Marin and Joseph Stella exploited the blank page as a tabula rasa for new ideas both artistic and political. Special focus is given to American printmaking of the first half of the 20th century, when artists such as Edward Hopper, John Sloan, Raphael Soyer, and Thomas Hart Benton mastered etching and lithography as vehicles for conveying their fascination with the dynamism of the city and the quiet toil of rural life. 

The exhibition continues into the mid-20th century, when the realism of the American Scene was supplanted by the abstraction of the internationalist New York School, whose revolution in painting found a counterpart in the innovations in printmaking achieved by many Abstract Expressionist artists. And it culminates with the 1960s and 1970s, when master printers such as Tatanya Grossman and June Wayne set up collaborative workshops where artists such as Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, and Frank Stella created screenprints and lithographs that took printmaking into the largely uncharted territory of photomechanic processes. Many of these artists—among them Sam Francis and Andy Warhol—set up print workshops of their own, asserting the centrality of printmaking to their studio practice.

The exhibition is organized by the Honolulu Academy of Arts and curated by Theresa Papanikolas, curator of European and American art.