- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 3, 2001

The Gemini Graphic Editions Limited's star has shone as brightly since 1966 as the blazing twins of the Gemini constellation.
Sidney Felsen, Stanley Grinstein and Kenneth Tyler were the young visionaries who founded the Gemini G.E.L. workshop in Los Angeles. The trio believed in expanding the boundaries of printmaking and sculpture, and Gemini became the most creative of the 1960s print workshops in using new technologies.
Gemini gained a reputation for cutting-edge work when collaborating with top artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Anni and Josef Albers, Willem de Kooning, Donald Judd, Bruce Nauman, Roy Lichtenstein, James Turrell and artist-architect Frank Gehry. Gemini invited artists to work with their superbly skilled printers, technicians and artisans in often astonishingcollaborations.
In 1981, Gemini gave its complete archive collection, intended to include one example of every Gemini edition, to the National Gallery of Art. (Mr. Tyler left in 1973 to establish Tyler Graphics Ltd. In New York state.) The archive has increased greatly since then.
Tomorrow, the National Gallery opens the show "Best Impressions: 35 Years of Prints and Sculpture From Gemini G.E.L." The exhibit presents an overview of the workshop's 1,900 print and sculpture editions by exhibiting 50 prints by 50 Gemini artists. In addition, the gallery's Web site at www.nga.gov offers the Gemini G.E.L. catalogue raisonne free to the public. It is the gallery's first online catalog.
Charles Ritchie, National Gallery assistant curator of modern prints and drawings, presents the work in four, roughly chronological sections. He begins with a room that shows examples of Gemini's highly experimental work.
Edward Kienholz and Nancy Reddin Kienholz's mock "Krone" TV (1981) surprises with the sounds of a Western romantic movie as well as a sports event recorded backward. It's actually a multimedia assemblage with recordings. The couple created the sculpture at Gemini as one of six series of fabricated televisions. Each work borrows its name from ashtrays the Kienholzes collected around the world.
"'Krone' represents a kind of 'Waiting for Godot' situation as we expect the TV to turn on and it doesn't," Mr. Ritchie says.
The curator included other surprises, such as Mr. de Kooning's tiny cast pewter "Untitled" sculpture (1972). Mr. de Kooning first modeled a lumpish human figure in clay, then cast it in pewter after experimenting with other metals such as silver.
Another unexpected work is John Chamberlain's "Le Mole" (1971). The sculptor, famous for images of crushed automobile bodies, constructed "Mole" from a crumpled paper shopping bag. He then covered it with dripped polyester resin.
The show also features a gallery of prints and sculptures by artists who worked at Gemini during its first 15 years. Mr. Ritchie hung prints by the two Albers, Man Ray, Ben Shahn, Frank Stella, Mr. Rauschenberg and Mr. Johns. Minimalist Mr. Judd's stainless steel sculpture is shown on the floor.
The 1960s were heady days for artist-printmakers. Two determined women, one in West Islip, N.Y., and the other in Los Angeles, created what is now called "The 1960s Print Renaissance." Tatyana Grosman, the wife of an artist, founded Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE) in 1957. Artist June Wayne established the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles primarily to train printers. Both Mrs. Grosman and Miss Wayne concentrated on lithography.
Mr. Tyler of Gemini G.E.L. first worked at Tamarind, then took printmaking several levels higher at Gemini. The printer found artists who loved the untried as much as he did. He also pursued new technologies by designing custom hydraulic presses and developing new registration systems for more exact printings of multiple colors.
A strong market for prints developed by the late 1960s. Museums helped by accepting the newly complex and large-scaled prints produced by these workshops for shows.
"From the late 1960s on there was a complexity and scale never before seen in American graphics," says Joann Moser, the senior curator specializing in prints at what was then the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of American Art. Prints also were cheaper than most paintings.
Mr. Ritchie devoted the third gallery to what he describes as "monumental prints and sculpture" and some are, indeed, enormous as is Jonathan Borofsky's "Hammering Man at No. 3302552" (1990). Mr. Nauman's even larger floor "Untitled" sculpture of two sand-cast iron beams sits solidly on the floor.
David Hockney was able to combine lithography and screenprint in his colorful Fauve-like "Going Round" (1994). He also used computer technology to create textures and tones.
Prints become freer, more technically adventurous and complex. Artists found they could do things with prints they could not in painting.
Gemini pioneered new methods for mixing large quantities of ink while also experimenting with larger printing presses and papers. One delightful result was Ellsworth Kelly's whimsical, precisely printed 18-foot-long "Purple/Red/Gray/Orange."
Another interesting work is Mr. Rauschenberg's haunting and haunted "Booster" (1967), a 6-foot-high lithograph with a life-size X-ray of the artist at the center. Mr. Rauschenberg also wanted an astronomy chart printed in red that tracked the movements of heavenly bodies as well as the Earth's daily and yearly rotation, but lithography printers could not print red over black and have it legible. Instead, they brought in silkprinting that sits on the surface of the lithographic stone and permitted use of the red ink.
Collaboration triumphed also with the challenge of Booster's size. The image was larger than any available litho stone. The artisans printed the skeleton image in two procedures from different stones and in two sections on one sheet of paper. The image forever changed printmaking in terms of size and strength and in a way that rivaled, or even surpassed, painting.
Another work to pause over is Mr. Lichtenstein's "Landscape With Poet" (1996). The public knows his ironic translations of comic books and advertising illustrations. It is less familiar with his more subtle spoofs of the fine arts as with "Landscape." Mr. Lichtenstein later explored traditional, magnificent Chinese landscapes in both prints and paintings. He used commercial Ben Day dots to transform the subtlety and poetry of the Chinese models for striking images.
Unfortunately, the exhibit's fourth gallery of work from Gemini's last 15 years is a disappointment. It just doesn't pack the punch of the other art. Mr. Gehry, familiar to Washington audiences with his spectacular design for the Corcoran Gallery's renovation and new building, created the most interesting piece. His "Untitled" work made this year is a laminated fiberglass sculpture that he enlarged for a bank atrium in Berlin.

WHAT: "Best Impressions: 35 Years of Prints and Sculpture From Gemini G.E.L."
WHERE: National Gallery of Art, Fourth Street at Constitution Avenue NW
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays, tomorrow through Jan. 21
TICKETS: Free
PHONE: 202/737-4215


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