Fit for Prints

Only a couple of the prints in Mark Makers include recognizable images. Elizabeth Murray's "Snake Cup," a color lithograph from 1984, depicts an abstracted cup and saucer with a snake-like form wrapped around the rim. "Kimono Still Life Vase," a 1992 woodcut and monotype by former Boulderite and CU art professor Betty Woodman, is just what the title suggests: a still life of a vase, although Woodman has taken pains to disguise her subject through simplification and abstraction.

Nearly every piece in Mark Makers was a gift to CU from well-known Colorado collectors Mark and Polly Addison. The only exceptions are two Larry Poons silkscreens, donated by New York collectors Phyllis and Aron Katz. The substantial donations from this pair of generous couples reveal the key role private collectors play in creating public collections like CU's. Not only do such collectors donate the art itself, but they also pass on their vision.

It's the Katzes' vision that predominates in the second, much grander show, Pop! Selections From the Colorado Collection, which occupies the capacious set of rooms in the back of the CU Galleries. Whereas the prints in Mark Makers are contemplative, in Pop! they're downright bombastic. Thanks to the Katzes and, to a lesser extent, the Addisons, the depth of CU's pop-art holdings is remarkable. Pop! stars a roster of famous artists from the mainstream New York school as well as West Coast players and even some Brits; their work offers a look at both the '60s pop art movement and its heirs.

Although his onetime partner, Jasper Johns, is nowhere to be found in Pop! (perhaps his works are too expensive), the Colorado Collection does contain several pieces by pop pioneer Robert Rauschenberg. Particularly striking are the set of six photo-silkscreen and collage prints from the 1977 "Chow" series, among the few items in either show that have been exhibited before. The subjects of all the "Chow" prints are torn bags of Purina animal food, for creatures as ordinary as domesticated hogs to more extraordinary ones, like monkeys.

Pop! also displays Robert Indiana's entire "The Folder Five" series. Each of these five silkscreens features a five-pointed star in a circle where various mottos are inscribed: "American Dream" in the center, surrounded by "Eat," "Die," "Err" and "Hug." This famous suite refers back to the work of Charles Demuth, whose seminal 1928 painting "I Saw the Number Five in Gold" anticipated the pop art movement by decades. Indiana appropriates Demuth's chosen numeral five (itself inspired by a period William Carlos Williams poem) line for line.

James Rosenquist's "Horseblinders" of 1968-69 is another series seen in its entirety. Each print is subtitled according to the four cardinal directions; for example, in "Horseblinders (East)," Rosenquist, a former billboard painter, places a super graphic rendition of a paintbrush on top of a gray and red backdrop. This series is one of the real standouts in Pop!, deserving of its prominent space at the start of the exhibit.

More typical than these complete suites, though, are the individual works in Pop! Two Roy Lichtenstein prints offer markedly different approaches and technique. "Untitled," from 1973, is classic Lichtenstein, a blurring of the distinction between popular culture and fine art that gained the artist international fame during his lifetime. In this cartoon version of a man's hand, a pointed finger, colored naturalistically, is aimed directly at the viewer against a fiery red ground. "Two Paintings: Painting in a Gold Frame," a 1984 print combining a variety of techniques, represents a later Lichtenstein phase, when his subject was the nature of art itself. The bottom and left side of the print provide a glimpse of a cartoon sketch of a frame; the painting within the frame is an abstract-expressionist one. With irony and wit, Lichtenstein conveys the gestural paint-laden brush strokes of abstract expressionism in the flat manner of a commercial illustration. In so doing, he subverts the established concepts of abstract painting.

Also interested in subversion was the legendary Andy Warhol. Unfortunately, the two Warhol prints in Pop! mark a low point in the artist's career, when he turned to portraits such as the drag queens seen in the pair of "Ladies and Gentlemen" silkscreens from 1975. What at first glance appears to be a fabulous early Warhol, one of his significant "Brillo Box" prints, is actually a postmodern spoof, a 1991 silkscreen by Mike Bidlo titled "This Is Not a Warhol." With that title, Bidlo refers to both pop guru Warhol and surrealist master Rene Magritte, who made a career of this kind of deadpan humor.

Crane's intelligent choices for Mark Makers and Pop!--not to mention the insight and generosity of the Addisons and Katzes that made her choices possible--provide viewers not just a valuable lesson in the recent past of prints, but a glimpse at the bright future of the revived CU Galleries.

Mark Makers: Painterly Abstraction From the Colorado Collection and Pop! Selections From the Colorado Collection, through March 20 at the CU Art Galleries in the Sibell-Wolle Fine Arts Building on the Boulder campus, 303-492-8300.

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