Making Its Mark

Tamarind's illustrious history is under the spotlight at the Center for the Visual Arts.

The Center for the Visual Arts in LoDo is currently hosting a large and important show. Tamarind: Forty Years documents some of the many accomplishments achieved over the decades by the legendary New Mexico-based printmaker. The title is somewhat misleading, since Tamarind was founded in 1960, making 2003 the 43rd anniversary of the place. But there's a simple explanation for the factual discrepancy: The exhibit debuted at the University of New Mexico Art Museum in 2000, which was actually Tamarind's fortieth.

To printmaking fans, the Tamarind name is not just familiar, but it also carries a considerable cachet, since it is among only a handful of nationally known facilities of its type in the country. Interestingly, several fine printers are also located in the western states, including Gemini G.E.L in California and Shark's Inc., right here in Colorado. (As it happens, both of these ateliers were founded by Tamarind-trained printers: Kenneth Tyler and Bud Shark, respectively.)

Tamarind was the brainchild of California artist June Wayne, who felt that lithography, an early-nineteenth-century invention, was in danger of disappearing. And she was no Chicken Little, because by the mid-20th century, the sky wasfalling on lithography. Though an important medium from the 1850s to the 1940s, it had gotten into trouble in the '50s, for several reasons.

"Untitled," by Roy DeForest, lithograph.
"Untitled," by Roy DeForest, lithograph.
"Cancellation," by Bruce Conner, lithograph.
"Cancellation," by Bruce Conner, lithograph.

Details

Through July 19
Center for the Visual Arts, 1734 Wazee Street
303-294-5207

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A key cause of lithography's decline was that it was associated with the social realists of the '30s and thus had left-wing connections during the era of the right-wing Red Scare. (The closing of the enormously respected lithography studio at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center in the early 1950s was directly related to this political shift.) The medium also had a credibility problem with many artists because of the wide use of offset, photo-based lithography in advertising and label-making -- decidedly non-art categories. The rise of pop art in the late '50s also represented a strike against lithography, because its rival, photo-friendly silkscreen printing, was the preferred method of that movement.

Wayne, an art activist, wanted to do something about the difficult situation, so in 1959 she applied to the Ford Foundation for a grant to establish a lithography workshop "To Restore the Art of Lithography in the United States," as the title of her application stated. Of course Wayne got her grant (or we wouldn't be talking about Tamarind now), and she opened the workshop the following year. She received more grants from Ford, helping put Tamarind on the art map and at the same time sparing the institution the need to turn a profit, ensuring that non-commercial work would become the printer's stock in trade.

The name "Tamarind" was chosen casually; the word refers to a tropical tree and to the location of Wayne's original workshop, on Tamarind Avenue in Los Angeles. That Wayne became Tamarind's first director was, at the time, very unusual, although, as proved by Tatyana Grosman at East Coast rival Universal Limited Art Editions, it was not unique to have a woman running an art facility. Also on board at the start were Clinton Adams, who served as associate director, and Garo Antreasian, who was the technical director. Adams and Antreasian both departed in 1961 and later wound up at the University of New Mexico, which was pivotal in Tamarind's future. (Wayne, Adams and Antreasian were experts at printmaking, but all three were chiefly painters, which is perhaps why Tamarind tended to primarily attract painters.)

Tamarind's directors encouraged the development of improved techniques, but in a break with tradition, they published the results of their successful experiments instead of protecting them as trade secrets. During its first decade, Tamarind invited many important abstract artists to do their prints at the workshop and earned a reputation for the clarity of its images. Abstraction creates special problems for printers, because the expressively handled grounds are difficult to reproduce accurately, but technological advances had allowed Tamarind to achieve remarkable results.

In 1970, the Tamarind Workshop was reorganized as the Tamarind Institute and moved from L.A. to Albuquerque, becoming a part of the College of Fine Arts at UNM. Wayne resigned and remained in Southern California, and Adams became the new director, with Antreasian resuming his post as technical director. In 1985, after Adams retired, Marjorie Devon became director, a post she still holds today. Devon edited the excellent catalogue that accompanies the 40 Years exhibit, and she helped organize it, though the show was principally put together by Kathleen Howe, curator of prints and photographs at the UNM Art Museum. All of the prints in the show are from the Tamarind Archive owned by the university.

Center for the Visual Arts director Kathy Andrews oversaw the hanging, and for some reason, she installed the show aesthetically instead of chronologically within stylistic groups. This seems like a particularly inappropriate idea for a historical show like this one. But it's an approach seen more and more, even though it robs exhibits of intellectual content by hiding the stylistic shifts that occur over time. Despite its popularity with exhibit arrangers, there seems to be no real reason for getting rid of chronology, as these stylistic shifts are ordinarily so radical that they provide all the visual variety that comes with an aesthetic approach. Also, an aesthetic installation seems to never start or end, but simply to run on a continuous loop.

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