Silent Watch: Contemporary Prints from Finland at Elaine Jacob Gallery and American Dream at Gallery Project

Silent Watch: Contemporary Prints from Finland at Elaine Jacob Gallery and American Dream at Gallery Project

Two scalp-tingling shows opened this weekend in the Detroit area. One, “American Dream” at Gallery Project in Ann Arbor, culls a diverse bunch of artists contemplating how that mysteriously pervasive idea, the American dream, has disintegrated and rebuilt itself over the last century. The other, “Silent Watch: Contemporary Prints from Finland” brings the work of a group of printmakers across the sea to Elaine Jacob Gallery on Wayne State University’s campus in Detroit. The work in “Silent Watch” contemplates many things; the work being prints, its major point of fascination is printmaking.

Gloria Pritschet, an owner/curator at Gallery Project, told me the original title of the exhibition was “American Scene,” which evolved, over the past year of economic flux and globe-shaking events, into “American Dream,” which seemed more vital to the times. The death of the old American dream is a dominant theme in the work. There are sunsets and a sprinkling of abandoned spaces treated in various media, most transcendently in Meagan Shein’s delicate ink drawings of empty houses on wax-coated paper. However, a refreshing focus runs throughout not on decay, abandonment or despair so much as persistence, repurposing, and rude life. Most of the spaces depicted are not abandoned; indeed, they teem with people and objects, commenting both on the American concept of freedom bound up with success and material wealth and on our continuing fight to prosper in increasingly scrappy and inventive ways. Though, as the show suggests, the idea of America as a unified, liberated melting-pot has largely faded from our imaginations, the wide range of materials and media in use, taken together, form a dense, glittering surface almost in melting-pot fashion; the truth of our American Dream is hiding right beneath these surfaces.

“Silent Watch” is unequivocally a show about printmaking; but it firmly establishes this old medium as one that can, despite the layers of process that inevitably become part of any discussion of prints, point powerfully beyond itself on many levels. I’ve had a thought lately that because of that very dominance of process it becomes almost impossible to make a “bad” print; the process is always there as a bolster to at least technical rightness. If that’s so, “Silent Watch” proves that the bolster of process can bend and leap and materialize upon more that mere paper- that printmaking can find a home anywhere, on any surface, and use it to say something new. The two words that pop to mind contemplating this show are “scale” and “light.” There are wall-filling prints here as well as more traditionally sized ones, and the running dialogue with light that hums through all the work is a reminder of the range of substance and subject matter printmaking can apply itself to.