Swoon’s Gorgeous Installation at IFPDA Fine Art Print Fair Is Breathing New Life Into the Antique Art of Etching

Swoon's Installation at the IFPDA Fine Art Print Fair (2019). Courtesy of IFPDA Fine Art Print Fair.

Of all artistic mediums, etching has perhaps most unfairly earned a reputation for being a bit dusty, even fuddy-duddy—gone the way of the monocle and iambic pentameter. But a monumental installation by the street artist Caledonia Curry—better known as Swoon—on view at the IFPDA Fine Art Print Fair this weekend proves that there is a whole lot of life left in it. 

Positioned at the fair’s entrance, the show-stopping 12 foot-by-24 foot mixed-media installation is sure to please Swoon’s fans, presenting her whimsical and realist imagery on a larger-than-life scale. But it is also poised to garner accolades from print traditionalists as well. 

“Swoon is a kind of a unicorn—an artist with a printmaking practice whose technique and imagery are known and respected by both the Old Master crowd and street artists,” said Jenny Gibbs, executive director of the fair, explaining why Swoon was the ideal artist for the commission. “Our main objective was to create a project which would engage with the communities of the print world who don’t normally talk to each other: the Old Master collectors, the young printmakers, and the contemporary collectors. We also wanted to provide a platform for a work that explores how prints can transcend the frame and create arresting, immersive environments.”  

Courtesy of the artist.

Courtesy of the artist.

This unexpected nexus of interests—and community-building —is befitting of Swoon’s career. She rose to prominence in the New York street art scene in the early 2000s, guerrilla-style posting her uniquely poignant wheat-paste portraits throughout Brooklyn and putting forth a particularly humanistic vision of street art. 

Etching is the unifying thread of her IFPDA installation, which is itself a feat of media-mixing that combines screen-printing, wood, and found objects in three dimensions. “There are a few different narratives within the pieces, from the Baba Yaga fairy tale to a portrait of my stepfather and a portrait of an artist friend as she became a new mother,” Swoon explained.

Her methods were also a result of extensive experimentation. “I don’t usually mix etching and block print, because there’s a real tension between them in my installations,” she said, “but for this installation I’ve worked extra hard to resolve that tension. It’s been one of the core challenges of the piece, which is also the thing which gives it its character.” 

On view near Swoon’s creation are prints by two masters of the medium, Albrecht Dürer and Edvard Munch, as well as examples by contemporary artists like Derrick Adams, showcasing what Swoon called the “push to continue bringing these ancient techniques into the present.” 

IFPDA Fine Art Print Fair i

Detail of Swoon’s installation at the IFPDA Fine Art Print Fair, 2019. Courtesy of the IFPDA Fine Art Print Fair.

In the process of putting together the installation, Swoon said she discovered a new appreciation for the complex technique. 

“On the one hand, when you work in etching, the lines are absolutely pure, just like you laid them down, and that’s a real freedom,” she explained. “On the other hand, it’s so difficult to see what you’re doing when you work that I often liken it to driving up a steep gravel road, backwards, in the rain. It takes an especially keen patience.”

The commission is part of the IFPDA’s drive to ignite enthusiasm for the medium among a new generation. It is also a cross-promotional effort with the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new exhibition “Renaissance of Etching,” curated by prints and drawings curator Nadine Orenstein. Both the commission and the exhibition will be the subject of a panel featuring Swoon, Orenstein, and Gibbs moderated by Sarah Douglas, editor-in-chief of ARTnews, on Sunday. 

The IFPDA Fine Art Print Fair runs through October 27 at the River Pavilion at the Javits Center in New York. Hours: Thursday, October 24, 12–7 p.m., Young Collectors Cocktails, 7–9 p.m.; Friday, October 25, 12–8 p.m.; Saturday, October 26, 12–8 p.m.; Sunday, October 27, 12–5 p.m. 

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