Downloadable PDF

Media Contacts:
Lynette Nyman, (612) 870-3173;
Tammy Pleshek, (612) 870-3171;
Anne-Marie Wagener, (612) 870-3280;

Print-quality Images Available Online:

The Prints of Sean Scully

The MIA Presents Selections from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s
Master Set of Prints by Sean Scully, the Only Set in a U.S. Museum

March 1–May 4, 2008

Minneapolis, January 18, 2008—The Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA) presents selections from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s (SAAM) master set of prints by artist Sean Scully. The Prints of Sean Scully features more than sixty-five works given by the artist to SAAM in 2001 and new works acquired since the original gift. Scully’s prints, woodcuts, etchings, and lithographs range from large-scale compositions to smaller, more intimate expressions of the artist’s ideas. The Prints of Sean Scully is on view at the MIA from March 1 through May 4, 2008, after its premiere in Washington and a stop in Naples, Florida.

“It is an honor for the Minneapolis Institute of Art to present work by the internationally acclaimed artist Sean Scully,” said Kaywin Feldman, Director and President of the MIA. “We are thrilled to be among the few museums taking part in an important national tour of one of America’s treasures.”

Sean Scully, who has been making prints for more than thirty years, considers these independent but complementary works to be as significant as his paintings. Using his recognizable block shapes, Scully’s richly layered prints explore recurring themes in his work, such as the play of light and shadow, the expressive qualities of color, and the spatial relationships created by the edges of his distinctive abstract forms.

“This retrospective of Sean Scully’s prints from the past twenty-five years affirms his reputation as one of the most highly regarded artists and printmakers in the United States,” said Dennis Michael Jon, acting co-curator of prints and drawings at the MIA.

Scully was first introduced to printmaking in the early 1960s when he worked for a commercial printer in London. This direct involvement with the craft of printmaking helped Scully develop sensitivity to its expressive character. After concentrating on painting for more than a decade, he returned to making prints with a small, stark line etching, “Princeton” (1982). Even when he began working with professional printers, a year later in 1983, Scully remained in complete control of the process.

The large, bold woodcuts Scully made from 1986 to 1993 have a strong, physical presence. The deep gouges and uneven surfaces of the woodblock prints, such as “Conversation” (1986), create an energized surface of lines and have a rough texture. The triptych format of this print, in which each panel is a different height, is reminiscent of his paintings, with canvases of different sizes and depths butted together to form a single composition.

Scully’s abstract imagery conveys emotion and atmosphere. He explores the evocative possibilities of texture, tone, and color in his prints, and the colors, composition, and luminosity of the works are often based on personal experiences. For example, the scratches and scrapes from the backs of plates and the mottled surfaces of his spit-bite etchings conjure the texture of timeworn facades captured in his photographs. The surface texture of “Wall” (1988) evokes the crude boards of fences and doors. Occasional glimpses of paper between areas of color suggest a silver sky seen through a broken fence or an open window. The blue tonality in the left half of “Mirror Yellow” (1998) recalls dusk, while the yellow glow of the right half hints at dawn. Scully is comfortable with these associations, so long as they do not become too literal.

Scully’s “Wall of Light” prints from 2000 to 2005 emphasize luminosity and transparency. Their rectangular forms seem to float and overlap, with soft edges that create delicate lines of indeterminate shape between them. These prints are rooted in the artist’s hand-drawn forms, his subtle touch humanizing otherwise geometric shapes. These works speak of transience and spirituality.

In 2004, Scully was invited to make lithographs while he was in Paris. He agreed to try the process for the first time since art school, enticed by the masterful lithographs Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec made there in the late 19th century. The lithographs Scully made in Paris depart from the refined surfaces, colors, and forms of the “Wall of Light” prints. Scully embraced a more physical, autographic expression in these works. The prints he made, such as “Paris Black” (2004), emphasize the basic principle of the lithographic process, which involves oil and water. For this work, Scully did not clean his brushes carefully, and water accidentally mixed with turpentine and oily ink, creating what he calls a “brutal roughness.”

Scully has placed four of the five master sets of his prints in museums around the world. His gift to the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 2001 included 131 etchings, aquatints, woodcuts, screen prints, and two artist’s books. New work is added to the set each year, which consists of 191 works currently. “Blue Fold,” on view in the exhibition, is one of the most recent works to enter SAAM’s collection.

About the Artist
Scully was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1945 and was raised in London, where his family moved in 1949. He attended classes at London’s Central School of Art (1962–65) and at Croydon College of Art (1965–68) and received a bachelor’s degree from Newcastle University in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1972. That year, he traveled to the United States for the first time on a one-year residency at the Carpenter Center for Visual Arts at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. He moved to New York City in 1975. Scully taught at Princeton University from 1977 to 1982 and was a professor at Parsons School of Design in New York City from 1981 to 1984. In 1983, the year he became a U.S. citizen, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship and an artist fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Scully was nominated in 1989 and 1993 for the Turner Prize, which is presented annually by the Tate Gallery in Britain. His paintings, prints, pastels, and photographs have been exhibited internationally, and his work is in the permanent collections of some of the leading museums in the United States and Europe. Scully maintains studios in New York City, Barcelona, and Munich.

This exhibition is organized and circulated by the Smithsonian American Art Museum with support from Gisele Galante Broida, Don Brown, Ruth Holmberg, and Norfolk Southern Corporation. The exhibition’s tour is supported in part by the C.F. Foundation, Atlanta, and the William R. Kenan, Jr. Endowment Fund.

Public Programs
Lecture: Sunday, March 2, at 2 p.m., Scully will discuss themes prevalent in his prints. A public reception for the artist will follow the lecture at 3 p.m. Admission is $5; MIA members free. Visit for details.

Film: Thursday, April 17, at 7 p.m., the MIA will screen The Passenger, a film by Robert Gardner that captures Scully while painting a work of the same name in his Barcelona studio in 1997. 25 minutes. Free.

The tour venues include the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C. (May 18–October 8, 2007); the Naples Museum of Art, Naples, Fla. (November 10, 2007–January 13, 2008); the Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minn. (March 1–May 4, 2008); and the Hyde Collection, Glen Falls, N.Y. (September 5–November 2, 2008).

About the Minneapolis Institute of Art
The Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA), home to one of the finest encyclopedic art collections in the country, houses more than 80,000 works of art representing 5,000 years of world history. Highlights of the permanent collection include European masterworks by Rembrandt, Poussin, and van Gogh; modern and contemporary painting and sculpture by Picasso, Matisse, Mondrian, Stella, and Close; as well as internationally significant collections of prints and drawings, decorative arts, Modernist design, photographs, prints and drawings, and Asian, African, and Native American art. General admission is always free. Some special exhibitions have a nominal admission fee. Museum hours: Sunday, 11 a.m.–5 p.m.; Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m.–9 p.m.; Monday closed. For more information, call (612) 870-3131 or visit
# # #