Many artists working today have embraced the new millennium as an era when traditional boundaries between disciplines are more fluid than ever before. With works on paper, this is particularly apparent, as drawing, printmaking, collage, and other paper-based methods have become an arena for remarkable innovation. Paper Trail: A Decade of Acquisitions features a broad selection of prints and drawings collected by the Walker over the past 10 years that addresses in myriad ways the means by which contemporary artists have explored notions of time, place, and narrative through the intimacy of paper.
The practice of drawing continues to be more broadly defined, with artists employing everything from pen and ink to elaborately layered, multimedia compositions to large-scale environments. Increasingly, these media are being used not merely as an end in itself, but in tandem with other techniques to create conceptual works and installations. Over the past decade, printmaking also has seen an expansion of interest, with artists well versed in traditional methods such as etching, lithography, screenprint, and woodcut turning to less conventional approaches and opening a remarkable range of aesthetic possibilities.
In Paper Trail, this spirit of experimentation is seen in works such as Glenn Ligon’s Untitled (Crowd/The Fire Next Time) (2000), a screenprint made from coal crystals; Gabriel Orozco’s Polvo Imprezo (2002), a group of etchings made from dust laid on printing plates; and DeLuxe (2005), a portfolio of prints by Ellen Gallagher that incorporates Plasticine, glitter, magazine cutouts, and hair pomade to create a mural-scaled tableau that examines social and historical issues related to race and gender. Many artists in the exhibition have grouped their work in portfolios or series, which often creates a powerful sense of storytelling, as seen in a series by Rachel Whiteread, whose sequential screenprints of London buildings undergoing demolition form a potent narrative of a constantly evolving urban landscape. Other selections utilize found images or materials to comment on global culture, such as a series of drawings on newspaper by Japanese artist Kaoru Arima; or German artist Thomas Hirschhorn’s collaged constructions of news magazine images, plastic, adhesive tape, and ballpoint pen.
The Walker has a long history of collecting and exhibiting works on paper, which now comprise more than half of the collection. Many works included in Paper Trail are new to the institution’s holdings and have never before been exhibited. Pieces by a number of artists represented in this show are on view concurrently in other Walker galleries, affording visitors the opportunity to examine their diverse activities across media and through time.
—Siri Engberg, curator, Visual Arts