Variations on a Theme

56A major exhibition of works from the private collections of Mary Margaret and Harry W. Anderson, comprising some of the finest prints from the second half of the 20th century, will be on view at the USC Fisher Gallery from February 15, 2006 through April 15, 2006. Variations on a Theme: American Prints from Pop Art to Minimalism will feature over 100 works by 12 artists including Anni Albers, Josef Albers, Robert Arneson, Richard Diebenkorn, Richard Estes, David Gilhooly, David Hockney, Robert Indiana, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Frank Stella and Wayne Thiebaud.

Organized by the Fresno Metropolitan Museum and curated by Susanneh Bieber, Variations on a Theme was on view at the Fresno Metropolitan Museum during the summer 2004 on a loan obtained from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

In an unparalleled action in 1996, the Andersons gave more than six hundred prints to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, which establishes the Anderson Collection Sharing Program, whose purpose is to make the collection accessible to small and mid-sized institutions. We are grateful to Mr. and Mrs. Anderson for their philanthropic initiative and to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, which allowed us to share this superb group of prints with our audience, said USC Fisher Gallery director Dr. Selma Holo.

The exhibition examines a crucial artistic development of the 1960s and 70s, in which artists challenged the traditional reverence for the unique masterpiece and instead explored the possibilities of repetition and change. The technical procedures and formal characteristics of printmaking were ideally suited to mirror this newfound spirit. The print medium began to mature and emerge as a pivotal form of expression in the visual arts. Variations on a theme is built around the exploration of artistic fascination with repetition, change similarity and multiplicity.

Josef Albers explored the use of a geometric theme in his lithographic series White Line Square (1966). The series is part of an endeavor to depict the possibilities of arranging and rearranging differently colored squares in infinite variations. Albers was not searching for the best and final composition and color combination. In visual formulation, ha said, there is no final solution therefore I work in series.In the 1960s after painting his squares with oil on canvas, Albers began experimenting with the print medium and soon realized its aptness for his endeavors. His series White Line Square is comprised of seventeen lithographs. Each print depicts four concentric squares created with three different colors and a white line. One of the three color fields is divided by a white line square which creates the illusion of different shades of color on either side of the white line, thereby demarcating four concentric squares.

In contrast, Roy Lichtenstein explored the possibility of variation through the use of successive states. In the six prints of his Bull Profile Series (1973), he transforms the image of a bull from a realistic representation to an abstract linear construction. Lichtenstein’s series appropriates a lithographic sequence by Pablo Picasso titled Bulls (1945), which similarly tells the story from representation to abstraction. By appropriating Picasso’s printed sequence, Lichtenstein tells the history of the print medium. Bull I depicts a black and white linear rendering printed with the traditional method of lino-cut. In the successive prints the image of the bull slowly morphs into an unmodulated, flat field of bright colors printed with the modern techniques of lithography and the screenprint. The print no longer imitates drawing or painting, but comes into its own, moving from the margins to the center of artistic relevance.

The artists featured in Variations on a Theme represent a dramatic shift in artistic thinking and theory of the twentieth century. With the artistic embrace of multiplicity, the print medium became increasingly more accepted. The individual markings by the artist’s own hand lost its relevance, leading to relative demise of the original. In Variations on a Theme, the exhibited works do not present final aesthetic solutions, but rather they express a moment in the infinite multitude of possibilities.