Context: The Art World, 1966-1976
The revolution in American printmaking began in the late 1950s with the founding of professional print shops, reaching a new apex of productivity and innovation in the 1960s and 1970s. When Gemini G.E.L. (Graphic Editions Limited) was founded in Los Angeles in 1966, the Vietnam War, Civil Rights Movement, and the Space Race were in full swing, and social and cultural revolutions were gaining momentum worldwide. Andy Warhol was producing the Velvet Underground’s debut album, and the Minimalist movement gained its first widespread recognition, distilling avant-garde sculpture into simple, mechanically produced shapes. At the end of the first ten formative years of Gemini, the war was over, having left an indelible mark on American society. Second-wave feminism had emerged as a potent political force, and the founding of Microsoft and Apple signaled the beginning of the digital age.
Modernism, the dominant mode in art for almost a century, had exhausted itself and given way to radical explorations that pushed the boundaries of art into the uncharted territory of the post-Modern. The same critical eyes of a generation that revolutionized the social structures and cultural values of mid-century America turned on the assumptions of the art world, rethinking previously unquestioned aspects of its practices. It was a decade of fundamental changes that have continued to define contemporary art today.
Printmaking: The 1960s and 1970s
Printmaking had existed for centuries as an art form (and source of commercial and journalistic images) considered somewhat less valuable than painting or sculpture. In the 1960s, it took on new significance as a medium in a changing art world that was less interested in traditional notions of originality and the “hand of the artist.” Printmaking offered a way to incorporate “low art” commercial techniques of printing and “found” mass culture images into fine art practices, exploring the significance of the reproduced image in our visual landscape. The concepts of the multiple and the reproducible in art became particularly interesting to artists, especially as modes of disseminating information, images, and ideas.
Gemini G.E.L. and America’s Printmaking Revolution
Gemini G.E.L. co-founders Sidney B. Felsen, Stanley Grinstein, and Kenneth Tyler shared a vision of facilitating experimental projects that required technologies and materials not commonly available to artists in their own studios. The proximity of the aerospace industries, Hollywood, and lithographers trained at the Tamarind Lithography workshops created ideal conditions for the founding of a print shop focused on developing innovative techniques and pushing the boundaries of the medium. The experimental opportunities afforded by Gemini G.E.L. attracted many artists who helped make fundamental changes to the way art was created and viewed. At its inception, the workshop invited well-established artists such as Josef Albers, Man Ray, and Ben Shahn; however, they quickly welcomed up-and-coming contemporary artists including Frank Stella (a key influence in Minimalism), Ed Ruscha (a prominent figure in the development of Conceptual art), Jasper Johns, (credited with the transition from Abstract Expressionism to Pop art), and Roy Lichtenstein (creator of iconic Pop comic strip images). The artists of Gemini G.E.L. were pioneers in explorations of media, form, mass culture, and reproducibility. They pushed the shop’s output toward large and complex multimedia prints and sculptural multiples, helping bring printmaking into the experimental and revolutionary arena of art-making in the1960s and 1970s.