Nora Gerien-Chen, an intern with the museum’s registrar department, interviews Marshall Price, curator of Colour Correction: British and American Screenprints 1967-75 and Kelly Woolbright, associate registrar.
Nora Gerien-Chen: What was the process you went through to put Colour Correction together?
Marshall Price: I’ve been here a year exactly and when I got here, I think it was about the first week, the curatorial department told me there was some space in the exhibition schedule and why don’t I look through what we have and put together a show from the collection. So I started systematically going through the collection to figure out what would make sense and I discovered that we had a pretty comprehensive holding of screenprints and I knew that this would make a good show.
The next step after that was really carefully going through the material to determine what could be included and what definitely could not. Pieces could be excluded due to condition, or because the material was not that strong, or simply because I didn’t like it, so my taste does come into play here.
Selecting the works for the show was difficult because we have so fantastic works but yet a lot is somewhat similar and related. I wanted to have a balance of artists, but one thing we didn’t achieve in terms of balance, unfortunately, was that there weren’t many works by women artists or artists of color. On some level that’s reflective of what was happening then. There weren’t very many women artists that had the opportunity to make works because the medium was a white male dominated club. It’s still like that. So I borrowed the Bridget Riley from the Ackland Art Museum. She was not only a woman making incredible prints at the time but also, as far as post-war British artists go, she’s probably one of, if not the most, important.
The Ackland also has a huge holding of these kinds of works and that’s no coincidence. So in the 1970s, there was a popular scam going around where unscrupulous art dealers would help assemble a collection of these kinds of works and then donate them to institutions. The tax break was not in line with the actual value of the works and this happened for a number of years, it was a national phenomenon. The material was so easy to get a hold of because there were so many editions of these kinds of work, but the IRS eventually caught wind of it and shut it down. I still see these kinds of works come up for auction all the time because people thought of these pieces as just posters for a long time and so they’ve just been sitting around in basements.
NGC: Could you speak about the Richard Smith works that made it into the show?
MP: The director of Richard Smith’s gallery was here recently — his gallery represents a few artists in the show — and he told me that these vacuum prints are just so rare because of the material. It just does not hold up over the years. Richard had told him that it was completely experimental, they had no idea what they were doing. In my mind, Richard Smith is primarily a painter, but you can see him explore three dimensionality in both mediums. In the late sixties, early seventies, there was a phenomenon of painting coming off the wall and into the space and Smith was definitely a part of that. This was not only happening in England, but most definitely in the States as well, in New York primarily. You can see a really strong affinity between his paintings and the [Richard Smith] prints you see in the show.
NGC: Marshall thought that the Richard Smith screen prints would be unique and important additions to the show, but when they were surveyed, it became clear that there was an issue, right?
Kelly Woolbright: Looking closely at the piece, you can see that the plastic was stiff and brittle and had warped over the years. It clearly wasn’t fit to be shown, so we called in a conservator. The plastic shrinkage put extra tension on the corners and the plastic in those areas eventually split, exposing the wooden supportive panels. Unfortunately, once plastics shrink, there is very little that can be done to reverse the process. Ultimately, in consultation with both the conservator and the artist, Marshall decided the best solution was to use these floating wooden frames that would both obscure the damage without applying any additional pressure and was stylistically in keeping with the artist’s vision for the work.
Richard Smith, K. Magenta, 1971. Vacuum-formed screenprint relief on plastic, edition 54/75, 23 1/4 x 19 1/2 inches (59.1 x 49.5 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Gift of Mr. Roy Grogan, 1980.98.3.
Richard Smith, C. Grey, 1971. Vacuum-formed screenprint relief on plastic, edition 46/75, 23 1/4 x 19 1/2 inches (59.1 x 49.5 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Gift of Mr. Roy Grogan, 1980.98.4.