Picker Art Gallery Hosts Exhibition, “EXXIT: Prints for the 21st Century”

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Emma Gutmann, Staff Writer

This spring, Picker Art Gallery is brimming with artwork of a myriad of techniques and textures by BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and women artists expressing their overlooked perspectives and identities in our twenty-first-century world. EXXIT: Prints for the 21st Century is an exhibition made up of 50 prints from all eight portfolios donated by Exit Art to Picker in 2013, displayed all together for the first time. 

The project is named after the Latin word “exit”— meaning “he/she/it goes out.” The word is used in stage directions when a character is made invisible to the audience, even when their action continues unseen and unheard off-stage. After supporting characters “exit,” the story proceeds with a select group of visible characters while important action unfolds in the wings. This exhibition endeavors to expose the artistry “backstage,” finally presenting it front and center under a spotlight.

We have had to be very flexible during the pandemic; all our previous plans for exhibition were scrapped, so we’ve had to rethink some things. We wanted to bring these prints out of storage because we wanted people to be able to connect with something that felt contemporary, something that spoke to them of the moment we’re all experiencing. Art from any period has the potential to make those connections, but the contemporaneity of these prints helps make the connection more explicit,” Co-Director of University Museums and Curator of Picker Art Gallery Nick West said.

Exit Art’s donation eight years ago nearly doubled the number of twenty-first-century pieces in Picker’s collection and brought about burgeoning diversity in its collection. With this wildly expressive and inclusive sundry of artwork, Picker signals its devotion to collecting and uplifting marginalized voices relegated off-stage moving forward. These pieces all uniquely invoke the passion of a personal voice while also resonating with widely felt struggles that are characteristic of movements tackling various “-isms,” including racism, sexism and heterosexism.

“Because Exit Art as an organization had been dedicated to amplifying the voices of overlooked artists who were making art that stood outside the mainstream (predominantly straight, white, male) art world, the prints also represent a much higher level of diversity than one would find in other parts of our collection, West said. “While the subject matter doesn’t always explicitly deal with an ‘-ism,’ the prints were mostly made by artists who were impacted by an ‘-ism,’ and were made for an organization that was actively combatting the inequities embodied in the various ‘-isms.’ In this spirit, we are reorienting our own work at Picker to promote greater diversity, inclusion and representation in our collecting.”

Although each is strikingly unique, a surprising number of pieces include the use of ribbon, string or braided cord popping out of the print, adding dimensionality to the generally two-dimensional quality of the printmaking medium. Other artwork uses collage, hand-coloring, architectural blueprints, glow-in-the-dark pigment and photography with foam and mirrors to convey abstract meaning with equally abstract ideas for execution. 

Shinique Smith melds an exploration of Japanese calligraphy with her dexterity as a graffiti artist in Salt and Pepper. James Nares created an apparatus to suspend herself over her canvas for gravity-defying perfection in When Language Was Young. Joyce Pensato reimagines Felix the Cat as a sullied, psychotic beast with meticulous messiness and inspiration from dumpster-soiled stuffed animals in Psycho-Killer Felix.

Considering EXXIT’s emphasis on multivocality, many of the prints focus on some form of duality, including the light and darkness in a person, the beauty and bloodiness of deconstructed femininity and the antiquity and modernity of American racism. While completely individual in their inspiration and creation, each piece in this collection is tethered together by their unapologetic celebration of vocality and diversity.

The EXXIT exhibition is open for visiting through May 23 on the second floor of Dana Arts Center for up to 10 people at a time. To book a visit, a form is available at colgate.edu/picker.