Art history too often ignores prints. Now the British Museum has made a persuasive case for their importance in 20th-century American cultureby Ben Lewis / September 28, 2008 / Leave a comment
Published in September 2008 issue of Prospect Magazine
The art history of the early 20th century is usually written as the story of a breakthrough for painters and sculptors, who, operating on their own or in small groups, pursued new strategies in colour and form. There were Matisse’s expanses of uninflected hues, Picasso’s primitive masks and rough planes, Brancusi’s marble orbs and brass ellipses, Kandinsky’s music of colours. Yet, as “The American Scene,” the British Museum’s absorbing exhibition of American prints from the first half of the last century, shows, the 20th century was also a golden age—and a revolutionary one—for the medium of the artist’s print: for etchings, lithographs, woodcuts, screenprints and the rest.
Prints are a medium that have slipped down the aesthetic gully between modern art and photography, both forms for which we have national museums. And one leaves the British Museum’s exhibition—which contains only 147 prints from its collection of hundreds of thousands—longing for some lottery cash for a national print museum. The exhibition ends on 7th September, but will be touring to Nottingham, Brighton and Manchester in 2009—catch it where you can.