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ONE GOOD PRINT
by Charlie Finch
 
The new prints and multiples show at the Museum of Modern Art, featuring European editions since 1960, is fairly desultory, a big, repeating yawn.

The British prints on the first floor featuring works by Fiona Banner, Grayson Perry and Gary Hume, among others, is a Romper Room installation with plenty of wall-sized pastel colors, maps and pretty numbers but not much more.

The sixth floor offers a history of late-20th-century prints from the continent full of arch left-wing sentiment and a gray-green self-pity. There's a nice little corner tribute to Joseph Beuys, an artist who appears more and more fraudulent as the years roll by, marching off to a revolution inside his handsome head.

Gerhard Richter clouds and Sigmar Polke trees demonstrate that prints these days are often an afterthought for the greatest artists. A teeny black rat by Katharina Fritsch seems like a souvenir of her majestic Rat Kings sculpture of 1993 (now on view at the Schaulager in Basel).

Cute cartoons of De Gaulle and Nasser rim a wall of political posters, evoking nostalgia for a Cold War when everything was in order, however re- and suppressed. But the overall effect of the show is to induce nothing more than a dry sigh.

With one distinctive exception: two glorious prints, psychedelically realized, of Richard Hamilton's Swingeing London. I had a friend long ago who was present when the London fuzz busted Mick Jagger and Keith Richards at the infamous party in which Marianne Faithfull was hauled forth naked in a rug. Hamilton captures Jagger and art dealer Robert Fraser triumphantly yet sheepishly holding up their manacled wrists in the back of a police car.

Hamilton bathes his subject in the colors of Carnaby Street: mod sensibility bleeds from these prints. And why not? Prints were on the hot young bodies then, in dresses by Mary Quant, on posters, bongs and bass guitars. Everyone was having too good a time, spontaneously, not forced as with Paris Hilton.

The brilliance of Richard Hamilton's Swingeing London (1968-97) carries that spirit forward in a tiny paper package. If prints are to have a future as art in and of themselves, they must look like this.

"Eye on Europe: Prints, Books & Multiples / 1960 to Now," Oct. 15, 2006-Jan. 1, 2007, at the Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10019.


CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).



 



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