Museum Acquires Edgy Contemporary Prints
Curator Jan Howard is delighted that Forth Estate’s wide-ranging print archive has found a permanent home at the RISD Museum.
Jan Howard, the RISD Museum’s Houghton P. Metcalf Jr. Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs, is thrilled to share a new archive of prints that has been added to the museum’s permanent collection thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor. Produced between 2005 and 2015 by the now-defunct fine art print publisher Forth Estate, the collection includes strong work created by RISD alumni and faculty and encompasses a wide range of styles, techniques and materials.
“It’s a great snapshot of what was going on in New York at that time,” says Howard. Forth Estate, which was cofounded by Brooklyn-based artists Glen Baldridge 99 PR and Luther Charles Davis, quickly garnered recognition for their innovation—which included approaching a group of emerging artists to offer amazing technical expertise. “Some of the techniques [their artists used] were quite unusual,” Howard explains, “but they were always in service to the meaning of the piece.”
Indeed, many of the artists involved have developed significant reputations in the art world, and Forth Estate editions are included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, the Whitney, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and many others. “These were some of the strongest prints being produced at that time,” says Howard, “and RISD faculty members are really excited to start using them in their teaching.”
When Baldridge studied at RISD, the Printmaking and Painting grad programs were combined and many faculty members taught in both departments. Forth Estate worked with Associate Professor of Painting Angela Dufresne—whose stunning Mildred Pierce Opening Scene reflects the dark drama of the 1945 Joan Crawford film—as well as Painting department alumni such as Alex Dodge 01 PT and Molly Smith 99 PT.
Howard is particularly taken with the tactile nature of Dodge’s contributions to the archive. “Using UV light to quickly dry the ink, many layers can be built up to create a dimensional surface to beautiful effect,” she says. Everything appears as it is, infinite, for example, captures the movement of water via a high-gloss printing on matte paper.
Baldridge’s prints also experiment with surface texture and push printmaking techniques in new directions. “His prints are quite seductive, but a deeper look often reveals unexpected allusions to disturbing subjects such as death and violence,” Howard notes.
Prints by Sara Greenberger Rafferty 00 PH, who studied Photography at RISD, feature images that reference the materials used to create them. At the Table 1 and At the Table 2, for example, utilize albumen (egg whites) in their portrayal of a woman eating eggs and toast. “Sara’s work frequently deals with the mundane,” says Howard, “as well as notions of the feminine, performance and comedy.”
Another nod to the mundane by NYC-based artist Sara Sanders brings to life comfortable-looking furniture pieces. One of the prints in the series came with all the mylar drawings and progressive proofs that highlight how the artist achieved so much depth in the work. “She layered 12 different plates—one for each color—to create a compelling image based on something that seems simple,” says Howard.
It’s this kind of attention to detail in the printing, along with the thought-provoking subject matter, that make the archive so special and such a wonderful tool for teaching. “I know curators at other institutions who would have loved to have the collection,” says Howard. “But it makes perfect sense for this work to come to RISD.”
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