Last Friday night, dozens of Madison?s hippest and best-dressed mixed and mingled at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (227 State St.) to celebrate the unveiling of the new exhibition ?Jasper Johns: The Prints,? enjoying food, drink and music on the gallery?s rooftop.
The main event of the evening, however, was a talk by Bill Goldston of Universal Limited Art Editions, a print shop that publishes many of Jasper Johns? prints.
Unfortunately, much of the speech appeared to go over the crowd?s head. Interspersed with Goldston?s narrative of his work with Jasper Johns were references to complicated printmaking techniques. Nevertheless, when he was not waxing philosophical on ultra-technical topics like the difficulties inherent in offset lithography, he provided some interesting insights into the collaborative nature of printmaking.
?I help Jasper execute his vision,? Goldston said, ?And when I say ?I,? you have to understand there are about 10 of me.?
Although Johns is ultimately responsible for all of the work he produces, Goldston explained that the artist consults with many specialists for their technical expertise.
In addition to describing the nature of Johns? medium, Goldston also shared some wonderful stories and photos of Johns? early career in printmaking. He told a compelling story of a small group of artists who began their journey of artistic experimentation at a little cottage in Long Island owned by a woman named Tatyana Grosman. They managed to create great artwork while discovering the previously unknown properties of printmaking techniques like lithography and screen printing.
While telling this story, he shared an amusing anecdote about a small studio he and Johns used to work in. For $90 a month, Goldston rented a former furniture store that he filled with a bevy of equipment.
One day, while Goldston was busy working in a corner of the studio, a woman walked in, had a brief conversation with Johns and left.
After he was done working, Goldston looked up and asked, ?What was that all about??
?She wanted a chest of drawers,? Johns replied simply.
Besides telling the story of Jasper Johns? career as a printmaker, Goldston?s talk also sought to dispel the myth of the infallible artist. Printmaking has so many potential sources of error ? a misunderstanding of technology, the number of assistants required and the artist himself or herself ? that there are frequently a number of pitfalls on the way to making a great print.
In spite of Goldston?s occasional misunderstanding of his audience?s knowledge of printmaking, his candid speech made the prints in the gallery spring to life.
The event was part of the museum?s series of low-key monthly celebrations titled ?First Fridays? and is free for museum members and a mere $5 for humble Madisonian plebs. Admission to the museum is normally free, but there is much more going on at MMoCA on the first Friday of the month than just what is in the galleries. In actuality, the museum brings in various attractions like live music and speakers that make it well-worth the price of admission.
Fortunately for financially challenged art lovers, anyone can gain free admission to the First Friday events by going along with the night?s theme. Next month, for example, First Fridays? theme is ?Scenes in Black and White,? so anybody decked out in monochromatic garb will be able to saunter past the payment table without a drop of guilt.
If, however, museumgoers can?t shake the cheapskate feeling, they have plenty of opportunity to drown their sorrows. First Fridays offers a wide selection of wine, beer and cocktails at a cash bar in the museum?s lobby.
Also in the lobby this month was the jazz duo of Nick Moran and Louka Patenaude. Many of the gallery-goers enjoyed the band?s relaxing rhythms before or after having a look at the exhibition.
For students and other community members alike, First Fridays is a unique and stimulating part of Madison?s social scene. It provides an intellectual alternative to parties or bars and is one of the few inexpensive opportunities college students get to dress up and feel sophisticated for a couple hours.
The next First Friday will be held March 7 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Amos Roe will be playing the keyboard in the lobby, and photographer Ida Wyman will be giving a speech on her black and white photography.
For a review of ?Jasper Johns: The Prints,? check out tomorrow?s The Badger Herald.
Correction: Due to an editing error, this article should have said First Friday events are held on the museum’s rooftop in the summer, spring and fall, and in the lobby in the winter.