Editor’s Note: After this article went to print, the CU Art Museum announced its closure from March 13 until further notice due to ongoing issues related to COVID-19.
From flashy billboards to images that surface in Instagram feeds, constant messaging seeps into most people’s realm on a daily basis. Persuasive Prints, an exhibition at the CU Art Museum, running through March 21, explores how artists and printmakers throughout history have fused image, text and technique to impact the opinions of viewers. From woodcuts dating back to the 1500s to eye-catching pop art, the pieces were selected by graduate students in CU’s museum practicum from CU’s elaborate archive.
“This collection goes back deep into time and space,” said Hope Clark Saska, curator of collections and exhibitions, who taught the graduate-level curatorial practicum in Museum and Field Studies. “Ideas travel, spread and multiply. Artists can influence each other.”
Andy Warhol’s untitled piece from his 1975 “Ladies and Gentlemen” series captures the intimate gaze of a cross-dresser. Directly next to Warhol’s stirring piece is Appropriationism artist Mike Bidlo’s “Not Warhol (Brillo Box)” print. Placing the work of the pop-art icon next to a piece that directly imitates his aesthetic, creates a palpable vibe.
In 1984, Bidlo even staged a reinvention of Warhol’s “The Factory” through a live party, inviting participants to engage. There were two Edie Sedgwicks, two Viva Hoffmans, two Marilyn Monroes and one Warhol.
“It’s not just about putting pieces up on a wall,” said Saska. “It’s about creating meaning as you arrange and create a new viewpoint. I like to think of it as a really good cocktail party where everyone is mingling.”
The 35 works in “Persuasive Prints” are sure to spark dialogue about the power art holds in influencing one’s mood or stance. While some pieces have political implications, others are simply indicative of the artist’s innermost thoughts.
The bold offerings of Jenny Holzer, selected by Allyson Burbeck, grip to the essence of punk rock. Selected prints from her 1982 series “Inflammatory Essays,” that once lined the streets of New York, can now be found in this stirring assortment.
From in-your-face yellow to dark green, her aggressive words adorn an array of colored sheets of paper pinned to the wall. When stepping back, the full work of art almost resembles a massive rebellious quilt. Instead of intricate patterns and cross-stitching, viewers can take in aggressive words heavy with frustration and anarchist sentiments.
“Our perception of the past is that it was subdued,” Saska said. Historically, people have always loved color and movement.”
Selecting prints from CU’s in-house collection of 9,500 items — that also features Roman coins and ancient ceramics — was no easy feat. In this case, the theme of the exhibition emerged only after participants selected their pieces.
“For students, it was a real journey,” Saska said. “We don’t store in frames and sometimes the work is not even matted, so they’re able to interact with them as objects first.”
“Last Library: Reading Rooms, Bridges and Tools for Integrating Ecological Ethics into Practice,” offers a kaleidoscope of work that is every bit as impactful as it is surreal.
Two classes of undergraduate students in the program in Environmental Design worked with Mary Mattingly, the CU Art Museum’s 2020 artist-in-residence, to design models for an ecotopian library.
“It’s kind of magical and mysterious,” said Sandra Firmin, director and chief curator at CU Art Museum. “Feedback from visitors has been really positive. There is something for everyone.”
Walking into the well-curated exhibition, viewers are cocooned into an intriguing space of sight and sound that almost feels otherworldly. Meant to call attention to practices that impact the earth while also engaging visually, this unusual display brings up the ecological harm that has already been done and simultaneously points to solutions and practices that could potentially heal the planet.
“Mary (Mattingly) thinks of the entire exhibition as a tool kit,” Firmin said. “The philosophical viewpoints are all interconnected. Conversations about climate change can be scary. This perhaps makes them more palatable.”
Suspended bookshelves filled with publications on sustainability and ecology call to museum-goers to page through. The audio recording of a person mimicking the sounds of a cat and owl adds a strangely soothing element to the space.
“It creates an ambiance of the natural world,” Firmin said.
Wishbones, pressed botanicals, pieces of wasp nest, origami cranes, burnt sage, large gleaming rocks and dried corn can all be found in this enthralling exhibition that points to the beauty and fragility of nature.
In addition to visitors reading and viewing the work of others, they can put their own words to paper as part of Sophy Tuttle’s “Ofrendas for a Dying Planet.”
“People getting to write what they miss from the world and participate in an interactive way is very cathartic,” Firmin said.
Vibrant depictions of birds can be found throughout — an element that speaks to endangered species. In Ashley Eliza Williams’ oil on panel “Convergence,” a myriad of winged-beauties form a perfect circle against a backdrop of clouded sky.
In Mattingly’s “Soil Stories,” an extensive amount of dirt bottled and corked line shelves on a wall. Ranging from light to dark, some specimens are gravelly while others almost resemble that of fine brown sugar. Next to the installation is a map of the mineral extraction that has taken place throughout Colorado.
“It’s showing how we exploit the earth for financial gain,” Firmin said.
The piece not only spotlights what humans are doing to deplete the soil, but also champions its role as the foundation of every terrestrial ecosystem.
From vessels used to hold water at Standing Rock to a miniature horse constructed by Samara Johnson from foam and actual strands of horsehair, this wide-ranging assemblage is teeming with pure wonder.
If you go
What: “Last Library” and “Persuasive Prints”
When: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, “Last Library” runs through July 18 and “Persuasive Prints” runs through March 21
Where: CU Art Museum, 1085 18th St., Boulder
Cost: free, donations encouraged
More info: colorado.edu/cuartmuseum