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Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers Spotlights Collaborations Between Contemporary Artists and Innovative Printmaking Studio

Art created during the 1990s at one of America’s premier printmaking studios is the focus in the second installment of the three-part exhibition series “Stars: Contemporary Prints by Derrière L’Étoile Studio,” on view at the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers from October 5, 2013, to March 2, 2014. From reinventions of Pop art and geometric abstraction, to adaptions of cartoon styles and appropriation, more than 20 prints by notable artists who worked with the studio illustrate the broad range of concepts and styles that artists explored at the end of the 20th century. Founded in 1978 in New York City by printer Maurice Sánchez, Derrière L’Étoile quickly became one of the leading printmaking studios in America that has thrived for the past 35 years.

The decade of the 1990s produced a diverse range of work by some of the most recognized names in contemporary art. Mel Bochner, Donald Judd, and Robert Mangold realized remarkably rigorous prints of geometric precision; their seemingly simple forms belie how challenging they were to print. Georgia Marsh’s lyrical abstraction harmonized subtle textures and bright bands of color. Others, such as Donald Baechler, Robert Gober, Roni Horn, and Tim Rollins and K.O.S. invited printed words into their images – albeit for provocatively different conceptual purposes. And the irreverent Paul McCarthy upended a holiday myth in his vigorously drawn print “Santa Chocolate Shop” (1997).

“This exhibition series celebrates the Zimmerli’s longtime relationship with Maurice Sánchez,” notes Suzanne Delehanty, the museum’s director. With great generosity, Sánchez has donated more than 500 unsigned printer’s proofs since 1982, when the museum launched the Rutgers Archives for Printmaking Studios to document aspects of printmaking in the United States. Delehanty continues, “These prints are an important resource for the museum’s exhibitions and educational programs about contemporary art, in addition to complementing the studies of Rutgers University faculty and students.”

“Part One of the exhibition included such artists as Keith Haring, Jeff Koons, and Elizabeth Murray, who made their first important prints with Maurice Sánchez in the 1980s,” notes Marilyn Symmes, Director, Morse Research Center for Graphic Arts and Curator of Prints and Drawings, who organized this trilogy of exhibitions. “And as their reputations grew, the art world increasingly appreciated the technical mastery Maurice achieved with every artist who created prints at his Derrière L’Étoile Studio – an expertise that notably continues to this day.” Part Three of the exhibition is on view from March 8 to July 31, 2014, with prints created from 2000 to the present.

During the 1990s, several artists playfully captured aspects of daily urban life with their spontaneous drawing styles. Since the late 1950s, Claes Oldenburg has focused on ordinary objects as captivating subjects for his prints and monumental sculpture. His dynamically rendered color lithograph “Apple Core” (1991) presents an already devoured and discarded piece of fruit as a study of distinctive sculptural form. For decades, Red Grooms has created amusing installations and prints inspired by Manhattan’s vibrant city life. In his color lithograph “Rockefeller Center” (1995), the popular landmark bustles with humorous glimpses of office (and underground) activity, as well as a parade of stereotypical pedestrians. Carroll Dunham’s “Blue House” (1998) invites viewers to peek through the windows of someone’s home. His cartoonish style injects domestic life with a comic, yet intense, perspective.

Sánchez also created remarkable late-career prints with two exceptional artists: Dorothea Tanning (1910-2012) and Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010). Both of their careers ultimately spanned 80 years since their art beginnings in expressive, surrealist-inspired figurative imagery. Though often recognized for painting and large-scale sculpture, respectively, their prints reveal their extraordinary skill in drawing. Tanner’s untitled print of 1992 generates a zesty, sensual energy; while Bourgeois’s two prints from 1996 present centered labyrinths that mediate between abstraction and cell-like enclosures.

Robert Gober’s print “Untitled” (1992-96) remains poignantly relevant to today’s debates regarding marriage equality. At a quick glance, the image appears to be a newspaper advertisement for a Saks Fifth Avenue bridal collection; however, the bride looks unsettled, rather than serenely joyous. The model for the bride is, in fact, a man (the artist, in a wig), and above the ad, is a faux headline: “Vatican Condones Discrimination Against Homosexuals.” However, some of the content is from an actual article titled “Vatican Condones Gay-Rights Limits.” In addition, the print was completed the same year that the federal Defense of Marriage Act was passed in the United States.

Maurice Sánchez studied art history and lithography at the University of New Mexico and painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. He also received a fellowship at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop (then in Los Angeles). In 1972, Petersburg Press recruited Sánchez to work in New York with James Rosenquist on a series of prints based on his paintings, including his monumental “F-111” (1964-65), which is now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

When Sánchez founded his workshop in 1978, he called it “Derrière L’Étoile”—meaning “behind the star” in French¬¬—to express his role as part of a technical team supporting the artist in printmaking projects. “In the late 20th century, many artists created images by using original photography, as well as manipulating commercially published stock photographs or film stills,” Symmes explains. “Derrière L’Étoile Studio already excelled at lithography. It then became one of the first workshops to combine new offset, photographic, and digital technologies in realizing these innovative images.” The Studio continues to produce major prints and multiples projects by some of the most recognized names in contemporary art.

This exhibition is supported in part by the Fifth Floor Foundation.

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