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If you like prints – and all the variations that come along with them – hit the Akron Art Museum, a Knight Arts grantee. Right now it has a large and inspired exhibit on display through March 16 called “Multiplicity: Contemporary Prints from the Smithsonian American Art Museum.”

I have no idea how many prints the Smithsonian has, but the more than 80 works put on show in five rooms on the second floor of the museum reflect clearly on the expansive title of the exhibit.

Start with the variety of processes or techniques used to create an image on a matrix (or prepared surface like wood, metal plate, limestone or stretched fabric) – intaglio (which covers such techniques as engraving, etching, aquatint, spit bite and the like), as relief prints (which refers to things like woodcuts, linoleum cuts, metal relief and others), and as planographic (which includes lithographs, screenprinting, monoprints, and still more). The didactic helps viewers understand the plentitude of options that artists had. If that doesn’t clear it all up for visitors, the museum has a handout that explains each technique and display cases in the middle of rooms that identify the equipment and tools needed to produce these fine works of art.

Part of the fineness comes from the stellar artists represented in the exhibit – Chuck Close, Jim Dine, Helen Frankenthaler, John Cage, and still others – all of whom who worked with professional printers to realize their artistic vision. Dine’s unique monoprint woodcut, called “Singing and Printing I,” is one of a series of the same printed image playing on the idea of the Venus de Milo, a famous artistic image over the years. In his specific way of doing things, though, he hand-painted the rendered image on each one in the series, thereby making every one slightly different and distinct from the one before. One may think of prints being the same in a numbered series; Dine explodes that notion.

Jim Dine, "Singing and Dancing I." Photo courtesy of Akron Art Museum

Jim Dine, “Singing and Dancing I.” Photo courtesy of Akron Art Museum

The variety of subject matter is noteworthy as well – like with Kara Walker’s alternate look at slavery and racism in America by redoing some magazine images in her prints based on “Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated), 2005”.

Kara Walker, "Alabama Loyalists Meeting the Federal Gun-Boats." Photo courtesy of Akron Art Museum

Kara Walker, “Alabama Loyalists Meeting the Federal Gun-Boats.” Photo courtesy of Akron Art Museum

As with any exhibit, you end up having some favorites for all sorts of reason. Maybe you’d pick John Buck’s two works, “Father and Son” and “Red Jesus.” The images and style are similar – silhouette-like forms around which are smaller, totem-like images that seem heavy with meaning.

See this exhibit. It really feels refreshing on all sorts of levels. The educational aspect is clearly one, but you can simply go for the aesthetics of it all.

“Multiplicity: Contemporary Prints from the Smithsonian American Art Museum” will be on display Wednesday-Sunday from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. and Thursday from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. through March 16 in the Akron Art Museum, One South High St., Akron; 330-376-9185; www.akronarmuseum.org. Admission is $7 (general admission), and $5 for students and seniors.

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