Julie Buffalohead, The Trickster Showdown, 2015. Color screen print and lithograph, diptych, edition of 8 plus 3 artist's proofs. Highpoint Editions Archive, The Friends of the Bruce B. Dayton Acquisition Fund and the Christina N. and Swan J. Turnblad Memorial Fund, 2020.85.16a,b. Copyright © Julie Buffalohead, published by Highpoint Editions.

The surprising, creative legacy behind “The Contemporary Print”

By Tim Gihring //

When Cole Rogers and Carla McGrath founded the Highpoint Center for Printmaking, in Minneapolis, in 2001, the plan was always to focus on three things: education, community access, and the “pro shop,” where prominent artists could work with Rogers, a master printer, to see their visions roll off the presses and into the hands of collectors.

Education and access came easily enough. Before creating Highpoint, McGrath taught at the Walker Art Center, and Rogers taught at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, where he began to feel uncomfortable knowing there was nowhere in the region for his printmaking students to really practice their art. Now there was.

The professional shop, publishing as Highpoint Editions, was slower to develop. Highpoint was off the beaten path of artists on the coasts, who could work with established printers there, like Pace Prints in the heart of the Chelsea arts district in Manhattan. “Cole had a long list of artists he wanted to work with at Highpoint, and some declined,” recalls Dennis Jon, Associate Curator of Global Contemporary Art at Mia and a former board member at Highpoint. “Getting artists out to Minnesota can be difficult.”

Julie Mehretu, Entropia (review), 2004. Color screen print and lithograph on wove paper; edition of 45, plus 6 artist’s proofs. Highpoint Editions Archive, The Friends of Bruce B. Dayton Acquisition Fund and the Christina N. and Swan J. Turnblad Memorial Fund 2020.85.68. Copyright © Julie Mehretu, co-published by Highpoint Editions and Walker Art Center

Eventually, after several high-profile artists took a chance on Highpoint, more followed. Some were already in Minnesota, as resident artists at Mia or the Walker Art Center. Julie Mehretu, one of the best-known contemporary artists today, was in residency at the Walker in 2003 when she began collaborating with Rogers. The following year, Highpoint joined with the Walker to publish Mehretu’s Entropia (review), a complicated color screenprint and lithograph that combines bits of maps and architectural drawings with her own symbolism to suggest the dynamics of power embodied in public spaces.

The edition sold out in an hour. “That put Highpoint on the map,” Jon says. Highpoint Editions has since worked with dozens of prominent artists, and their prints are in the collections of major museums and public institutions. “At this point in its history,” Jon says, “I think it’s at the top of its game.”

Mia recently acquired the entire Highpoint Editions archive comprising its first two decades of work, including some 325 original prints and much of the material used to make them. This month, Mia opens “The Contemporary Print: 20 Years at Highpoint Editions,” featuring about half the original prints from the archive. Rogers has described the exhibition as a kind of family reunion—all these prints that have gone off into the world, gathered in one place. Jon, who curated the exhibition, sees it as a showcase both of a major new addition to Mia’s collection and the creative power of collaborative printmaking.

If printmaking is among the most antique of contemporary art forms it can also be one of the most complicated, involving heavy stones, even heavier presses, and years of training. As the form evolved into myriad, sophisticated techniques—some of which will be demonstrated in the galleries of “The Contemporary Print”—it became increasingly specialized. By the 1800s, if you considered yourself a printmaker, that’s what you did—you made prints. Most other artists, even those well known for their prints (Whistler, Picasso), came to rely on trusted printers to manifest their ideas. In Europe, at least, they were relatively easy to find. Not so in the United States.

When Tatyana Grossman began inviting her artist friends to the print shop in her small house on Long Island, in the 1950s, there were few other options in the area and none as indulgent. As the New York Times described the enterprise, which became Universal Limited Art Editions, “Expert technical assistance was available at any time of the day or night and could continue indefinitely. There was a limitless concern for individual needs and whims. There was wonderful food and a great deal of it.” Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Helen Frankenthaler, and other prominent postwar artists took advantage of the hospitality, artistic and otherwise—many had never made a print before.

A few years later on the opposite coast, June Wayne founded the Tamarind Lithography Workshop, in Los Angeles, which became the Tamarind Institute at the University of New Mexico in 1971. And eventually the model of what came to be known as collaborative printmaking was seeded across the country, at workshops and universities, helping establish the medium as an innovative and vital form of contemporary art.

Willie Cole, Savannah, Dot, Fannie Mae, Queen, and Anna Mae, from “Five Beauties Rising,” 2012. Intaglio and relief print, edition of 9 plus 3 artist’s proofs. Highpoint Editions Archive, The Friends of Bruce B. Dayton Acquisition Fund and the Christina N. and Swan J. Turnblad Memorial Fund, 2020.85.25.1. Copyright © Willie Cole, published by Highpoint Editions

Rogers trained as a master printer at Tamarind, before coming to Minneapolis in the early 1990s to work at Vermillion Editions, a fine-art publisher that opened in 1977 and closed in 1992, tracing the artistic renaissance of both printmaking and the city’s Warehouse District, where Vermillion was based. (The Vermillion Editions archive is also in Mia’s collection.) He worked a few years more at Vermillion’s successor before going to MCAD to teach. When he and McGrath envisioned Highpoint, it was in some ways a return to his formative years at Tamarind.

“Because of Cole’s background, it’s modeled directly on the antecedents, the predecessors of collaborative printmaking,” Jon says of Highpoint. Many presses have become specialized, focused on niches of the marketplace, while Highpoint has remained “non-denominational,” Jon says. “It strives to be diverse.”

Willie Cole began working with Rogers about a decade ago, a partnership that embodies the model’s inventive possibilities. Cole is primarily known as a sculptor, and he originally envisioned printing on ironing boards. The boards, along with old steam irons, are a frequent motif in his work, the long, narrow forms representing everything from African masks to oppressive domestic work to the notorious diagrams of ships packed with enslaved Africans.

But after experimenting with various techniques—lithography, woodcuts—Cole and Rogers ended up inking the board itself and running it through the press. On paper, the battered boards appear as apparitions, outlines of some ineffable form from the past—they could be slave ships or tombstones or shields. Cole, in a nod to the ancestral women in his life, called the series Beauties.