Monday, February 1, 2010

Mail as Art

It is hard to think about mail as art, but it is.   The National Postal Museum has featured exhibits on the art of the stamp, probably the smallest canvas imaginable.  But art in mail goes beyond that and includes the design of typefaces used in every piece of mail delivered, as well as the design of greeting cards, invitations, advertisements, and even bills and solicitation.

I mention mail as art because the first Postmaster General, Benjamin Franklin gained his start as a printer and publisher in Philadelphia.   It is Franklin's and Philadelphia's connection with printing that generated the idea an international festival celebrating print in contemporary art.   The festival, Philagrafika 2010  started last Friday and will run until April 10. 

The festival is divided into 3 components:

The Graphic Unconscious  is the core exhibition  and includes works by 35 artists from 18 countries displayed across five venues: Moore College of Art & Design; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA); Philadelphia Museum of Art; The Print Center; and Temple Gallery, Tyler School of Art, Temple University; with significant installations by different artists on view at each site.

Out of Print pairs five artists with five historic institutions in Philadelphia: the American Philosophical Society (APS) Museum; the Historical Society of Pennsylvania; the Independence Seaport Museum; the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and the Rosenbach Museum & Library. Each artist created new work for the festival inspired by the extraordinary collection with which they were matched.

Independent Projects are exhibits organized by seventy-five additional cultural institutions in Philadelphia, include a huge variety of monographic, group, and thematic exhibitions in which the printed image plays a central role.

While Philagraphika focuses on contemporary art, the topics explored at the festival's venues are the heart of the challenge that designers of mail and other documents face in trying to make their designs, and the content that they contain effective.

Pattern and Ornamentation: The multiplication/repetition of an image or text to produce patterns that are applied to various surfaces as ornamentation or embellishment.

Accessibility and Dissemination: The long-standing appeal of inexpensive, mass-produced prints, in the form of posters, broadsides, flyers, etc., as an effective means of raising public interest in social and political struggles and recent innovative adaptations as developments in production and communication technologies have continued to evolve.

Collaboration and Community:  The often shared production of printmaking (an artist working with one or more printers, publishers, etc.) that has attracted numerous artists working as collectives, ideally suited to their ambitions to create a sense of community through collaboration.

The Authority of the Print: The use of existing printed images and texts as iconographical or inspirational sources; the appropriation of printed images; and the implied validation of a text or an image by virtue of its existence “in print.”

Craftsmanship and Aesthetics: The significance of the choice of medium, its intrinsic qualities and the skilled craftsmanship with which it is executed  in relation to the artist’s expressive goal; and the translation of the inherent aesthetics of one medium into another.

The Print in the Public Sphere: The key role of print forms and conventions in the circulation of ideas and images that create a public realm and help construct consensus forms such as histories, authorities and individual and community identities.

I urge readers of this blog who live within reasonable distance of Philadelphia to take a trip and check out this exhibition.  

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