Summer at the Seattle Art Museum usually means a blockbuster exhibition, designed to encourage visitors from all walks of life.
This year, SAM’s show, Graphic Masters, may be less exuberant than past exhibitions, but there’s no denying that prints by artists from Albrecht Durer to R. Crumb pack a significant punch.
Graphic Masters is SAM’s first major show devoted to graphic arts: two-dimensional works that depend on line drawing to convey meaning.
The show was crafted around a collection of first edition prints by Francisco Goya, on loan to the museum. SAM Deputy Director Chiyo Ishikawa calls Goya the greatest Spanish artist of the late 18th/early 19th centuries. Although he came from humble beginnings, Goya made his way to Madrid and eventually got a royal court appointment.
Ishikawa says Goya may be best known as a painter, but she considers his print series Caprichos, which means caprices or whimsies in English, to be equally important. The series includes 80 images, many of them lacerating social commentaries about the Church or the Spanish aristocracy.
“This series was not popular initially when Goya published it in 1799,” Ishikawa says. In fact, the artist sold only 27 editions of the 300 he printed.
“He gave the plates to the King, so the royal printing office had them and re-issued the series for years.”
Many of the images are humorous; Ishikawa is particularly fond of one print called “Now They Have a Seat.” It depicts two women wearing nothing but petticoats, with chairs upside down on their heads. Two men leer at them from the background.
“There’s a pun in it,” she says. “Because ‘asiento,’ seat, also means judgement. So Goya is making a point here about lack of of judgement.” Presumably on the part of a certain caste of Spaniards.
Goya took a risk when he made these images. The Spanish Inquisition was still in full force at that time. Ishikawa says, despite the fact that Goya served as an official court artist to three Spanish kings, he had to cloak his opinions.
Caprichos may have been the inspiration for SAM’s Graphic Masters, but the show is intended to give viewers an idea of the various forms printmaking can take. The exhibition includes work by Rembrandt, Picasso, and the cartoonist R. Crumb.
Graphic Masters is at Seattle Art Museum through August 28, 2016.