The Ins and Outs of Lithography

Robert Cottingham,  An American Alphabet: L , Lithograph, 2005

Robert Cottingham, An American Alphabet: L, Lithograph, 2005

Written by Brontë Mansfield and Emily Cheetham, Summer 2019 Intern

There are many forms of printing, like etching, screenprinting, and woodcut printing–but lithography is a particularly complex and versatile medium. Lithography literally means “an image from stone.” As the Tate Modern explains, “Lithography is a printing process that uses a flat stone or metal plate on which the image areas are worked using a greasy substance so that the ink will adhere to them by, while the non-image areas are made ink-repellent.” Limestone was originally used as the stone when lithography was first created. Today, the types of stones and metals used have widened.

Lithography was invented in the 18th century to distribute sheet music to orchestras, but was quickly picked up by artists. The creation of lithography allowed for images to be mass-produced in more colors and more quickly than prior printmaking techniques. The creation of lithography was hugely impactful to culture: art could be distributed more cheaply to the masses. Lithography is taught in MFA programs around the country and is a medium used by many prominent contemporary artists, including Robert Cottingham in his series An American Alphabet . Lithographs are often an excellent option for those looking to collect prints for their corporate space or home.

There are several different types of lithography: original stone, original plate, lithographic reproductions, and offset prints. Understanding the different types of lithography fosters a deeper understanding of art making, helps viewers identify prints, and lays a foundation for building an art collection.

Original Stone Lithography

The original stone lithograph is the oldest and most identifiable form of lithography—when you think of a lithograph, this is most likely the kind you are thinking of. These lithographs are drawn onto limestone by the artist using a waxy or greasy medium. The grease repels water and is used by the printmaker to transfer ink from the stone to paper. Original stone lithography captures the marks made by the drawer’s hand with more fidelity than any other form of printmaking. These prints are often more expensive and highly prized due to the mastery of the medium required to print them.

Since the creation of lithography in 1796, the medium has been instrumental in creating the aesthetics of several major artistic movements. In the late 19th century, Toulouse-Lautrec used lithography to make 350 original posters and advertisements that are now emblematic of bohemian Paris. Then, in the early 20th century, German Expressionists like Edvard Munch used the gestural marks of lithography to capture their inner turmoil during World War I.

To see original stone lithography in action, watch MoMA’s video, “Pressure + Ink: Introduction to Lithography.”

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec,  Divan Japonais , Lithograph printed in four colors, 1892-93

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Divan Japonais, Lithograph printed in four colors, 1892-93

Edvard Munch,  Anxiety , Color lithograph in black and red on card, 1896

Edvard Munch, Anxiety, Color lithograph in black and red on card, 1896

Original Plate Lithography 

Original plate lithographs differ from original stone lithographs with the material used. Here, the artist is draws onto aluminum rather than limestone. A favored option to stone lithographs, these lithograph matrixes are easier to move. Litho stones can be incredibly heavy and while limestone is a common type of stone, limestone that is of high enough quality to produce prints is harder to source, leading to the creation of alternative methods.

Lithographic Reproductions

Lithographic reproductions can be copies of any work of art. A photograph is taken of the piece and used to create more copies of the piece. These images are not drawn directly onto a lithography stone and are often not created by the original artist. Lithographic reproductions are not original works of art, but are affordable ways to disseminate an image.

Victor Moscoso, Lithographic poster, 1967

Victor Moscoso, Lithographic poster, 1967

Offset Lithography 

Offset lithography is mostly commonly associated with posters. An iconic example is the two-toned or rainbow psychedelic posters of the 1960s. Offset lithography is not done by hand, but with a flexible aluminum plate incorporated in a large printing press. The term “offset” refers to the transfer or offsetting of pigment onto a “rubber blanket” before it is then printed on a piece of paper. This is a difficult process to describe in writing, but the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco created this excellent video that demonstrates the technique. Not only is offset lithography cheap and easy, it also results in a consistent, high quality image. Similar to a lithographic reproduction, the resulting artwork is not often considered an original piece.

Understanding the different types of lithographs can help individuals or companies looking to establish or expand their art collections. With a deeper knowledge of printmaking techniques comes a deeper appreciation for the finished work. Rather than seeing prints as mere reproductions of art, viewers can see lithographs as works of art unto themselves.

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Art World Logistics and Jackson Pollock's "Mural"

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This week, the New Yorker published a piece on Jackson Pollock’s painting Mural. Since the creation of Mural in 1943, the painting’s multi-decade journey–from a Peggy Guggenheim’s home and various museums to emergency storage and world tours–illuminates many of the services that we provide as art consultants.

Commissions and Installations

As New Yorker writer Louis Menand relays, Mural was commissioned by Peggy Guggenheim, niece of Solomon R. Guggenheim of foundation and museum fame, for her Manhattan townhouse. The piece was installed by the artist and Guggenheim’s friend Marcel Duchamp–which lead to a tall tale about Duchamp slashing eight inches off the painting to make it fit in the space. The story isn’t true, but it’s a great reminder why art consultants exist: not only do we occasionally work with artists to facilitate commissions for corporate clients, but we also work with expert art handlers on installations. For each installation, we take precise measurements, use hardware that works best for the location, and protect the art and the clients’ space.

Donations

In the 1950s, Peggy Guggenheim moved to Venice and wanted to donate the painting but was faced with a conundrum. She offered the painting to Yale, but the institution passed on the donation. The painting ended up in Iowa City, eventually finding its way into the University of Iowa art museum. As art consultants, we can help facilitate the donation of art from corporate collections when the pieces are no longer a good fit for the company. Our services include finding the right home for a piece and managing the logistics of transferring ownership.

Protection and Storage

Pollock’s Mural found a great home at the University of Iowa, but decades later disaster struck. In 2008, the Iowa River flooded the campus, causing $750 million dollars in damage. The school narrowly avoided losing their art collection to the flood. According to the New York Times, “a herculean effort in the preceding days had gotten thousands of pieces, including the museum’s well-regarded collection of African art and a Jackson Pollock piece, to safety.” A component of  our work is to ensure the safety of artwork. We can work with corporate clients to properly store and protect collections from calamities like water damage, mold, pests, or theft. Storage solutions can be on-site in a corporate space or off-site through a trusted vendor.

Transportation

Ground was just broken on the new University of Iowa art museum this past June, but Mural has not been hidden from the public for the past decade. The Pollock masterpiece has been on a world tour, traveling from museum to museum while its home institution recovers. A major part of our work involves arranging the transportation of artwork. For pieces acquired in Chicago, we work with a local network of art professionals to facilitate transportation. When we acquire pieces for corporate clients from galleries in places like New York or Los Angeles, we must arrange transportation for pieces across the country. We are also experienced in facilitating the safe and timely transit of art at a global scale, navigating customs, taxes, crating, and even transAtlantic transportation.

Exhibitions

In July, Pollock’s Mural arrived at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The piece has been in exhibitions around the world for the past ten years and, as the New Yorker notes, each museum decides how to exhibit the piece in relation to their collection. Curating and managing special exhibtions is another on of services as an art consulting firm. We work with clients to create seasonal exhibitions that showcase local artists for their employees and visitors, allowing the client to highlight their support for contemporary art or their interest in a particular medium, like photography or abstract painting. Each exhibition we curate is unique and tailored to our client and their space.

Mural is an excellent example of the interesting and varied life of a single artwork. Every work of art has a story and every owner of a piece contributes to that story. Our job is to help clients acquire new pieces or manage collections–and to help art and companies tell stories together.

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A Brief History of Minimalism

Written by Emily Cheetham, Summer 2019 Intern

Imagine you are in New York City during the 1960s. You bike along the newly paved Brooklyn Bridge bike path listening to the Beatles, on your way to catch a show at a gallery. Over the past twenty years, abstract expressionism has become the dominant artistic style. Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko are the avant garde and New York has replaced Paris as the capital of the art world. Andy Warhol just unveiled his Marilyn Monroe paintings to the world and designed a Velvet Underground album cover. The 60s art world is all about loud color, splattered paint, and over-the-top imagery.

But across the city, three artists–Donald Judd, Robert Morris, and Sol LeWitt–sit in their studios developing a new artistic movement that would go on to influence everything from architecture and design to fashion and music: minimalism. “Minimalist artists rejected the notion of the artwork as a unique creation reflecting the personal expression of a gifted individual,” writes the Tate Museum in London, “seeing this as a distraction from the art object itself. Instead they created objects that were as impersonal and neutral as possible.”

What was so different and new about minimalism? A look at three famous minimalist artworks can explain. 

Robert Morris, Untitled (Mirrored Cubes)

Robert Morris completed this piece in 1965 to be exhibited at the Green Gallery in New York. Morris eventually destroyed the original piece, believing that the material was not of the highest quality. A new version of the sculpture was placed at the Tate Modern in London beginning in 1971. Four mirrored cubes sit in a symmetrical placement, encouraging the viewer to walk around the piece. As the viewer looks at the art, however, they are forced to reflect on themselves rather than just reflecting on the art. The viewer battles the beauty of art with the imperfection of reality. Minimalism is often overlaps with conceptualism, or art that draws its meaning from thought-provoking concepts.

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Donald Judd, UNTITLED (1969)

An apostle of minimalism, Donald Judd, once said, “actual space is intrinsically more powerful and specific than paint on a flat surface.” Minimalist pieces often take up literal space, rather than depicting something through painting. Donald Judd’s desire to exhibit art in an unconventional way is evident with this piece. Judd sought to revive the gallery space, to make art that reacts to the space it is in.

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Sol LeWitt, White Cubes

Sol LeWitt was mesmerized by the shape of a cube. He once called the cube "relatively uninteresting,” and used the shape in his art because the cube “lacked the expressive force of more interesting forms and shapes." To LeWitt, the cube was the ultimate “meaningless” shape. He wanted to make art objects that had no deeper or symbolic meaning—a cube is simply a geometric figure. These white cubes fall perfectly into the minimalist ideology: they are geometric, colorless and interchangeable.

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Minimalism Today

Minimalism continues to impact contemporary artists today. Chicago artists like Theaster Gates and John Pittman—tackle aesthetic issues through form and shape. As corporate art consultants, we have built a local and international network of artists working in a range of styles, including contemporary minimalism. Because a simple, impactful geometric artwork often pairs well with modern office furnishings, minimalism can be an excellent addition to the aesthetic of a corporate space.

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Exploring Corporate Collections

Artwork by Sam Francis and Louise Nevelson that we highlighted on a recent collection tour for a local law firm.

Artwork by Sam Francis and Louise Nevelson that we highlighted on a recent collection tour for a local law firm.

For many of our projects, we help clients acquire artwork for specific physical spaces. Size constraints and design aesthetics inform what we present and ultimately which artwork the client selects. While clients often add art to a collection one piece at a time, as art consultants we assist clients in acquiring pieces that will also fit within the context of the client’s full art collection. Whether the client has three works of art or a thousand, the dialogue and history connecting the collection is as important as the individual pieces. With every acquisition, we aim to highlight the shared DNA between art historical movements, place, and content. These threads that connect works of art in a collection can be subtle, and we delight in illuminating them.

Collection Tours

One way to learn about the connections within a collection is by attending a tour. We offer a range of tour and lecture options for client collections. These tours can be presented internally, for a client’s employees or tenants as a way to boost company pride and help team members feel connected to the artwork that they encounter every day. People love learning the stories behind the artists and can make connections between art and the company’s culture and goals.

Collection tours can also be hosted for clients and guests, giving them exclusive access to collections that are rarely publicly visible. This is a great opportunity for marketing and educating the public about a client’s investment in the art community, as well as providing a glimpse into the personality of a company. Many of our clients prioritize buying works from local artists, and hosting a lecture that connects artwork from their collection to local art history can be a deeply enriching experience.

Recently, a law firm we work with reached out about pairing a collection tour with another event. They were hosting a continuing education lecture about updates to laws affecting image licensing, which has broad applications in the art world, so hosting a collection walk-through was a natural fit. Because many of these laws are related to the year they go into effect, it was interesting to discuss how that timeline has affected contemporary works in the collection differently than works that predate the new laws. Viewing the client’s broad array of paintings, prints, and photographs set the tone for the event, and many questions after the lecture circled back to works seen during the tour. 

On tours, we love to pick out a few highlights from a collection and walk people from piece to piece, connecting the artwork with stories about the artist’s approach, influences, and style. Learning about the story behind the work makes art more accessible, and ultimately more enjoyable. In a corporate setting, this dialogue can be tailored to enhance company values and to help employees and guests foster a personal connection to a large organization. 

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Public Art in Downtown Chicago

Written by Emily Cheetham, Summer 2019 Intern

Since the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, building a better city has been a top priority for Chicagoans. Celebrated architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan flocked here to build the city that we know today. Alongside architecture, public art has been a fixture of Chicago aesthetics for decades. The city’s public art includes some exemplary pieces of modernist art. Here are the stories behind four sculptures that define public art in downtown Chicago.

THE PICASSO

Designed by Pablo Picasso in 1967, this piece is technically unnamed, but is colloquially referred to as “the Picasso.” It was one of the first public sculptures to be placed downtown and sits in Daley Plaza inside the Loop. Commissioned by the architects of the Richard J. Daley Center, Picasso refused the payment for the piece, instead creating the sculpture as a gift to the city of Chicago. The Picasso looks a bit like a jungle gym and it is not uncommon to see visitors of the plaza climbing on and around the sculpture.

ALEXANDER CALDER’S FLAMINGO

Head a few blocks south in the Loop and you will find yourself dwarfed by the Flamingo, a large vermillion abstract sculpture sitting in the Federal Plaza. Alexander Calder designed this sculpture in 1974, clocking in at an epic weight of 50 tons. Calder wanted his sculpture to wind and arch, a curving pop of color surrounded by monumental steel buildings. Flamingo was the first sculpture to be unveiled under the Percent for Art program—a program which administers a percentage of the city budget to public art. 

Left: Pablo Picasso, Untitled, 1967. Right: Alexander Calder,  Flamingo , 1974.

Left: Pablo Picasso, Untitled, 1967. Right: Alexander Calder, Flamingo, 1974.


JOAN MIRO’S CHICAGO

Down the street from Picasso’s sculpture is a work by contemporary master Joan Miró, fittingly titled Chicago. This piece was unveiled in Brunswick Plaza by Chicago’s first female mayor Jane Byrne in 1981. Miró’s sculpture is a 40-foot statue of a woman tucked between two skyscrapers. It is a mixed media sculpture—steel, wire mesh, concrete, bronze and ceramic tile produce Chicago.


ANISH KAPOOR’S CLOUD GATE

 Known to all Chicagoans and visitors as “The Bean,” this sculptural feat is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the whole city. Contrary to popular belief, the actual name of Anish Kapoor’s sculpture is not The Bean—it’s Cloud Gate. Kapoor’s design was based on liquid mercury and consists of 168 stainless steel plates welded together. The highly polished structure is a mirror to Millennium Park and the buildings that surround it. The bean-shape bends and curves giving viewers a perfect photo opportunity as the reflections are distorted. The sculpture was the product of a design competition and debuted in 2004.

Left: Joan Miró,  Chicago , 1981. Right: Anish Kapoor,  Cloud Gate , 2004.

Left: Joan Miró, Chicago, 1981. Right: Anish Kapoor, Cloud Gate, 2004.

Chicago is known for its public art, from sculptures to murals to interactive pieces in parks. Public art is meant to be enjoyed by the people and be accessible to all. Sometimes that accessibility leads to rare acts of vandalism. Just last week, Cloud Gate was tagged with spray paint. According to the Chicago Tribune, workers were able to remove the graffiti quickly and restore Chicago’s iconic sculpture.

In our work as art consultants, we have worked on a variety of projects involving public art or conservation. We have coordinated the moving and storage of large-scale outdoor sculptures. We also work with talented conservators to restore artwork when accidents happen. Helping companies find, install, and protect art for the enjoyment of their employees, customers, and the public is one of our chief joys as a company.

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