Print and Social Movements
Nicci Yin

Recent exhibitions are revealing a seeming divergence in what art is intended for. On the one hand, there are Damien Hirst spot paintings scattered throughout Larry Gagosian’s global franchise in a spectacular staging of world domination through art—a show/ploy that sits tentatively on the fine line between art and pure marketing. On the other, smaller arts organizations like the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts zeroes in on socially relevant issues and promotes art as activism through programs and exhibitions, such as their current Sound of Silence: Art During Dictatorship (on view January 27 through March 10). It then came as a pleasant surprise to discover what MoMA has in store for the next few months: the Print Studio, which began this past Monday and initiates a tripartite program that will culminate in two exhibitions, Print/Out and Printin’.

The claims of print as an evolving artistic process and as a vehicle for “the production and dissemination of ideas” lie at the center of the two exhibitions. And the latter is what makes the Print/Out and Printin’ especially prescient: a participating member of the Sound of Silence exhibition is Polish artist-activist collective antibrainwash project, whose website catalogues protest posters available for download, rather than to be simply viewed. From the Occupy movement there is Occuprint, which similarly documents print posters from the movement with the intention for the posters to be downloaded and, hopefully, used.

What makes this ironic—and thus a pleasant surprise—is the fact that although MoMA was one of the major art institutions that the Occupy Wall Street spin-off movement, Occupy Museums, has protested against in recent months, the program and exhibitions speak to the growing relevance of print as a medium activated by social movements. Their program is made even more democratic, intentionally or not, by the Print Studio, which involves museum visitors in interactive workshops, lectures, and events to engage them directly with the practice of print.

The works of art from antibrainwash project and Occuprint are pregnant with political ideas and social functions. Though these uses of print material are alluded to, the exhibitions are by no means directly about the political and social; the focus of the two exhibitions remains mainly within art itself, with attention resting on major artists such as Ellen Gallagher, Ai Weiwei, and Rirkrit Tiravanija. The resemblance of art within the museum to contemporary visual culture affirms art’s potential to converge with life. A statement like this repositions art in a context where it includes the public, rather than serving to alienate the less elite.

Printin’ will be showing at MoMA from February 15 to May 14; Print/Out will also be showing at MoMA from February 19 to May 14.