American Prints Today

At the Museum of Fine Arts

This large show, now occupying the special exhibition galleries of the MFA, contains a number of exciting works indicative of the diversity and technical achievement of American print-makers. Though one cannot call one particular style the most successful, certainly the most surprising aspect of the show is the brilliance of two realist artists, Aubrey Schwarz and Moishe Smith.

"Realism" suggests boredom and academic stuffiness to our twentieth century mentality; yet, Rembrandt or Durer, prime realists, evoke quite the opposite reaction. These masters were realists, too, and they, as these two young printmakers today are beginning to do, made palpable the external appearance of things while revealing their essential nature.

Schwartz and Smith are not the Michelangeli of our age, by any means, but their prints present a refreshing and moving image of things in a new, though at the same time basically imitative manner.

Two large intaglios by Smith, Summer and Winter, part of a series on the Four Seasons, have an organic force in them that unites in a plausible way sky and earth, relates trees to their shadows, joins rocks and hills in an astoundingly true simulation of the climate and general mood of these two contrasting seasons. In the Winter print, Breughel's influence as well as that of Rembrandt at his most lyric, is artfully suggested.

The Shrew of Aubrey Schwarz is especially fascinating because it has such strident symbolic power. Schwarz borrows his technique from Durer's enamel engravings, but the daring placement of the shrew, the uncanny emphasis on its very white eye belongs to the modern period. Without losing its descriptive accuracy, The Shrew is designed as a harrowing picture; the animal shown is an image of horrid, unfathomable evil.

There are abstractionists in the show as well. Their contributions to the print-making world have been slight, as the few works they show demonstrate. The best of the group is a reserved color lithograph by Andrew Stasik where a large mottled rectangular form slanted across the page elegantly balances the white of the paper surrounding it. As for the remaining few abstract pieces, they seem to be imitating avant-garde paintings while suffering from their inability to employ the tactile effects of pigment.

There is a middle ground between these two extremes of style. In his atmospheric etchings. Harold Altman uses long, thin strokes to create a highly abstract atmosphere through which people and objects appear, much as images appear through the dots of a Seurat drawing. Another artist of this "moderate" group, Rudy Puzzeti, exhibits Tower of Babel, an atmospheric evocation of Breughel's famed painting on the same subject.

The exhibit displays a few works, as well, by the two artists who have dominated American prints for the past five years--Leonard Baskin and Antonio Frasconi. Frasconi has changed very much in the last year. His sharp, forceful decorativism has been discarded for a softer, simpler style. Frasconi's delicate color sense has never been so in evidence. Here, the subtlest relationships between greys, violets and deep greens are explored. Yet, in the simplification of forms, compositional balance and interest has been slighted.

Baskin is represented with only one print, a powerful woodcut entitled Death of a Laureate. A hideous, paunchy Caesar seems to gore himself with his own hand. The intricate details that contrast so effectively with the forceful large areas of pure black testify once more to the skill of this master craftsman of American art. More of his work should have been exhibited.

All the prints in this show are for sale at a price that could fit any student's budget. Budding scholar-collectors would do well to look into this enjoyable exhibit.