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"Dissent!" - The Subversive History of Printmaking
Ben Shahn (American, 1898–1969), Stop H Bomb Tests, 1960. Screenprint, 110.17 x 75.25 cm. Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University Art Museums. Stephen Lee Taller Ben Shahn Archive, Gift of Dolores S. Taller, M25461. Photo: Photographic Services © President and Fellows of Harvard College.


CAMBRIDGE, MA.- DISSENT!, an exhibition of 62 prints, books, postcards, posters, magazines, t-shirts, and playing cards, presents an historical survey of printed images that express resistance to oppressive religious, political, and social systems. The exhibition, organized by the Harvard University Art Museums, will be on view at the Fogg Art Museum from November 11, 2006 through February 25, 2007. Featuring the many forms that printed protest has taken, the exhibition looks at the important role printmaking has had in the history of dissent. Since their inception, prints have embodied the viewpoints of their day, and over five centuries, those made in opposition to prevailing perspectives have been distributed privately or posted publicly—on walls, billboards, and now, on the web.

By their very nature, prints are an ideal medium for dissonant expression. Because their production is uncomplicated, requiring only a printing press, matrix, and paper, prints can be produced inconspicuously, and if necessary, clandestinely. Thousands of like images can be made inexpensively and quickly, in prompt response to an event or action. As multiples, prints have served as the carriers of ideas, communicating information to a larger and wider audience than unique works such as paintings or sculpture. DISSENT! demonstrates the role of artists in the dissemination of opinions and the cultivation of public debate and dialogue, and showcases how important these works were during a number of significant historical periods, many times leading to social or political change.

The exhibition was organized by Susan Dackerman, Carl A. Weyerhaeuser Curator of Prints. “It is important to exhibit and explicate works such as these within the setting of a museum, especially a teaching museum where we encourage the unsettling of settled opinions,” said Dackerman. “Through the course of history, artists have played an important role in the promulgation of dissonant opinions through printmaking. I hope this exhibition will provide the opportunity to examine that role by turning the gallery into a place of public discourse and initiating a critical dialogue about the work, its history, and most importantly, its implications for the future.”

Several of the works in the exhibition were created by Harvard students during the student protests of the late 1960s, and much of Dackerman’s research was conducted in the Harvard University Archives. Reading through the records of the negotiations between students, faculty, and administration, and gathering copies of the posters, t-shirts, and armbands that the students printed, she was able to create a picture of life at Harvard during this tumultuous time and establish the importance of printmaking in the students’ efforts. The exhibition substantiates that printmaking has always been related to current social and political issues and can also be relevant to contemporary student life. Dackerman adds, “Teaching students how they can and should participate in a democratic system is invaluable.”

“This exhibition allows us to reach out to the larger student population and engage them in the exploration of an artistic practice that can be meaningful to their lives,” said Thomas W. Lentz, Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot Director of the Harvard University Art Museums. “Our mission has always been focused on teaching and research, and that focus is never limited solely to art history students or to Harvard students. We strive to create an atmosphere in the museums with exhibitions, programs, and our study centers that encourages the active participation of all students and an intimate examination of the works of art.” The exhibition is supported by The Anthony and Celeste Meier Exhibitions Fund.

Featured Works: From the 18th century, three of Francisco de Goya’s etchings from Los Caprichos disparage political, intellectual, and social life in Spain following the erosion of the progressive ideals of the Enlightnment. They include The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (1799), Here Comes the Bogeyman (1799), and They Spruce Themselves Up (1799). Jose Posada’s Calavera de D. Francisco I. Madero (1912) mocks Mexican president Madero in a political caricature, questioning his regime and predicting his eventual execution. Designed as postcards and imitating American comic strips, Pablo Picasso’s Dream and Lie of Franco (1937) feature bitterly satirical etchings condemning General Francisco Franco, the threat of fascism, and the atrocities of war. Andy Warhol’s screenprint Birmingham Race Riot (1964) uses published photographs of the events of the time to capture police brutality. STOP B S (2004) by Richard Serra is a manipulation of his STOP BUSH drawing, eliminating the “u” and “h” from the president’s name to produce the colloquial abbreviation for bullshit. The poster Corporation as Forked-Tongue Snake (1969) is one of many pieces made by unknown Harvard students in their workshop at the Graduate School of Design during the student strikes. Sister Corita, a nun and civil rights activist, combines a photograph of Coretta Scott King with the words “BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL” in her screenprint If I (1969).

The exhibition will be accompanied by a brochure featuring 11 illustrations, a checklist, and an essay by curator Susan Dackerman. The brochure is supported by an anonymous donor.





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