With Help from Students, Print Rental Program Adds New Works

By Mitchell Johns, Maia Suazo-Maler
April 24, 2019
Visitors examine James Siena’s print is it I? It is I! at the Maryland Institute College of Art booth at the Editions/Artists’ Books Fair in New York City in October 2018. Two senior members of the museums’ Student Board assisted with acquiring works at the fair for the Student Print Rental Collection.

As senior members of the Harvard Art Museums’ Student Board, we had the opportunity in October 2018 to travel to the Editions/Artists’ Books Fair in New York City with Elizabeth Rudy, the museums’ Carl A. Weyerhaeuser Associate Curator of Prints, and Christina Taylor, assistant paper conservator in the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies. 

As representatives of the Harvard student community, our role was to participate in acquiring art for the Student Print Rental Program. We’d visited art fairs before but only as spectators; this was our first chance to interact with gallerists and artists to inquire about their offerings. 

Before our trip, we surveyed other Student Board members and our housemates about what types of art they thought would make the most exciting additions to the Student Print Rental Collection. Many students wanted contemporary prints as well as ones that address current social issues. Ultimately, we feel that our decisions—and subsequent acquisitions—embodied the student voice, with a particularly Harvard twist. 

One of the first booths we visited was that of the Maryland Institute College of Art. On the wall hung James Siena’s print is it I? It is IFrom a distance, it looked like a sans-serif letter “I” on plain paper.

James Siena’s print is it I? It is I!, shown in the Art Study Center.

Upon closer inspection, however, we noticed that the “I” is made up of layers of the palindrome “isiti?;itisi!” Printed in alternating shades of gold and brown, the letters impress the sense of personhood that it is central to the piece, its palindrome, and its construction. The paper support is made up of stray letters, and its frayed edges reveal the material. Our understanding of the print changed as we realized it was all about the process of printmaking. And the process led us back to Harvard. 

Siena had worked with Bow & Arrow Press—the local printing press nestled underneath Adams House—to create student-assisted works. Each time he created a new work, every student who aided in the process got to keep an edition. So returning one of Siena’s works to a Harvard collection, specifically to be accessed by students, seemed appropriate. 

Later in the day, we stumbled on the booth of Cannonball Press, a Brooklyn-based group publishing mostly black-and-white woodcut prints. We browsed a binder of prints from about 20 different artists until one work grabbed our attention. Luna, by Katy Seals, is an 18-by-24-inch print depicting a nightmarish patchwork of settings, body parts, and symbolic items—including pills, coffee beans, howling dogs, and a jagged corkscrew—all under a moon.

Katy Seals’s Luna, shown in the Art Study Center.

Seals’s print stood out from the others in the booth for its complexity and referential layering. Based on our personal experiences with codified and intricate works in the Student Print Rental Collection, we thought Luna would similarly lend itself to display in a student’s room, where its interpretation could be developed over the course of a school year. 

The entire process of acquiring Luna and is it I? It is I!—from being invited on the trip, to acting as ambassadors for the museums, to submitting suggestions for acquisition—emphasized to us the importance of students to the Harvard Art Museums community. We hope that future students will be as fortunate as we were to take an active role in acquiring works for the Student Print Rental Program, and we are excited to find out which lucky individuals borrow these new acquisitions in the fall.

 

Mitchell Johns is a senior concentrating in English, with a secondary in computer science.

Maia Suazo-Maler is a senior concentrating in the history of art and architecture, with a secondary in computer science. 

  • of Visitors peruse booths at the Editions/Artists’ Books Fair.
  • of Maia Suazo-Maler examines a print at the fair.
  • of Mitchell Johns looks at a wall of prints.