Now that digital imagery circulates at lightning speed, the printing press may seem like ancient technology. Yet well before the advent of photography, printmakers’ innovations revolutionized the reproduction and distribution of images. Paper Museums traces the history of reproductive prints—that is, prints which reproduce other works of art—from their rise in Germany and Italy to their flourishing in the Netherlands, France, and England. The exhibition features prints by and/or after Dürer, Michelangelo, Raphael, Rubens, and Watteau, along with celebrated sets by Claude Lorrain and J.M.W. Turner, among many others.
Relatively inexpensive and readily transportable, reproductive prints allowed broader audiences to become familiar with the paintings, sculptures, and other works previously available only to royalty, wealthy travelers, and collectors. Organized in five thematic sections, Paper Museums opens with an introduction to the various ways prints transmitted ideas and styles. Section two explores the paradoxical role played by reproductive prints in relaying notions of truth and authenticity. The third section illustrates how reproductive prints disseminated the imagery of antiquity and contributed to the creation of a classical canon. Part four focuses on the use of prints to promote the fame of artists and collectors. The exhibition concludes with an examination of the social organization of print workshops, highlighting the important contributions of women printmakers.
Paper Museums is organized by the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago and curated by Rebecca Zorach and Elizabeth Rodini. The exhibition is generously supported in part by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, the Rhoades Foundation, and the Adelyn Russell Bogert Endowment Fund of the Franke Institute for the Humanities, University of Chicago. Smart Museum exhibitions are also generously supported by Tom and Janis McCormick and the Kanter Family Foundation and Nuveen Investments. The presentation of Paper Museums and Room with a View at the Grey Art Gallery is made possible in part by the Abby Weed Grey Trust. Public programs are supported by the Grey’s Inter/National Council. Special thanks to George Way, Staten Island, for his generous loan of the decorative arts on view.