Maryland Printmakers When: 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays to Fridays, through Nov. 16.
Where: City Hall Courtyard Galleries, 100 N. Holliday St.
It's hard to know whether to applaud "Maryland Printmakers" at the City Hall Courtyard Galleries (through Nov. 16) for what it has done or to be sorry that it hasn't accomplished more of what it set out to do. Both, probably.
Maryland Printmakers, in addition to the title of the show, is the name of a group founded in 1989 devoted to printmaking and promotion of printmaking through shows, lectures and other means; eventually, they hope to have a gallery space. There are more than 100 members, and this is their most ambitious exhibit to date.
Billed as "an exhibit of fine prints and how they are created," it consists of two parts -- didactic and exhibition -- which should be more complementary than they are. There are prints by 56 artists (one each) in a variety of techniques including relief printing, intaglio, lithography, screen printing and monotype/ monoprint. The other, didactic part of the show consists of explanations of these processes, with written material backed up by several series of photographs and some of the actual tools used. It's a great idea, and in some ways, it's a nice try, but it doesn't really come off.
The didactic part isn't didactic enough. The intaglio process is explained almost well enough in a case full of material with extensive labels, but none of the other processes enables the viewer ignorant of it to be clear about how it's done. It's so easy for people who are thoroughly familiar with a process to think they're explaining something adequately when they're actually leaving out material that seems to them too obvious to be worth mentioning, and no doubt that's what happened here.
The exhibition part of the show suffers from the fault of many shows from groups such as these: It's too inclusive. The reluctance to leave people out resulted in too wide a spectrum of quality. It wouldn't matter if this were a show for the members to see each other's work, but there should be more selectivity in a show of this kind.
The two parts of the exhibit could have been better integrated, too. For example, there could have been a lithography section, containing the explanation of the process and the show's lithographs grouped together with a label explaining the sort of effects that you get from the process; the same for relief printing, and so on.
As it is, the works of art are all mixed together with the result that, for instance, the explanation of the intaglio process is in one gallery and three good examples of it are hung together but in the other gallery.
Those who make an effort can certainly see the cool, flat, impersonal look of a screen print, the painterly look of a monoprint, the linear look of an intaglio print, but it could all have been made so much clearer.
Let's be positive, however, and regard this as a beginning. One can get something out of the show, if not enough, and if Maryland Printmakers can learn from this and try and do a really thorough job next time, we'll all benefit.