What Is a Print? An Interactive Website is Now a Book

Cover of What is a Print? publication

What Is a Print? (2011), by Sarah Suzuki, Associate Curator in the Department of Prints and Illustrated Books, is a publication that grew out of The Museum of Modern Art’s interactive website of the same name. Elaborating on the site’s tutorials on the practical and technical aspects of basic printing techniques, the book also presents the history and cultural context of printmaking and is illustrated with ample examples from MoMA’s rich print collection. Specially commissioned works by four contemporary artists—Christiane Baumgartner, Julian Opie, José Antonio Suárez Londoño, and Terry Winters—play a crucial role in demonstrating the traditional printmaking techniques of woodcut, intaglio, lithography, and screenprint, and provide a connection between historical masterpieces and contemporary prints.

A black-and-white woodcut by Christiane Baumgartner demonstrates key characteristics of the woodcut technique, the oldest method of printmaking and the first discussed in the book. Often depicting just enough of an image to deliver the essence, woodcut prints may seem simple and primitive but they can be quite powerful in their graphic starkness. Opening the chapter on intaglio prints are two colorful and elaborately detailed works by José Antonio Suárez Londoño that visually describe the etching and printing process. Intaglio prints are created by drawing on a plate with a burin or a pointed needle, which often results in delicate lines that can be sharp or soft, depending on the line work. The third chapter features Terry Winters’s painterly print, which shows that lithography can look a lot like a drawing or a watercolor; it does not require chisels, knives, burins, or scrapers and can capture the artist’s handwork in its purest form. In the fourth chapter, screenprint is represented by Julian Opie’s work. Usually clean-cut and colorful, screenprint works are often minimal yet eye-catching.