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In Conversation about the Brodsky Center: Institutional Activism and Feminism Shaping the Cultural Landscape

Winter 2018
Winter 2018
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Ferris Olin, Distinguished Professor Emerita, Rutgers, is an art historian, curator, women's studies scholar, and librarian whose forty-year career was spent atRutgers University, where with Judith K. Brodsky she co-founded and co-directed the Institute for Women and Art (now Center for Women in the Arts and Humani-ties) and The Feminist Art Project, and co-curated the Mary H. Dana Women Art-ists Series, the oldest continuous running exhibition space for emerging and estab-lished women artists. She and Brodsky co-authored Junctures in Women's Leadership: The Arts (Rutgers University Press, 2018). For the "Pulp the Patriarchy" issue of Hand Papermaking, I interviewed Judith K. Brodsky, the founder of the Brodsky Center, and its founding master papermaker, Gail Deery and her successor, Anne McKeown, to discuss the origins and history of the renowned institution, focusing on its feminist ideals, the establishment of the papermaking studio, and the Center's contributions to feminist visual arts.

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An historical overview to start: The Brodsky Center was founded in  1986 as the Rutgers Center for Innovative Printmaking (RCIP) by  the feminist printmaker, arts administrator, curator,  entrepreneur, and scholar Judith K. Brodsky. Eight years later,  with the establishment of a papermaking studio and hiring of  master papermaker Gail Deery, the Center added papermaking to its  program to become the Rutgers Center for Innovative Print and  Paper (RCIPP). In 2006, it became the Brod-sky Center for  Innovative Editions.1  It was always Brodsky's vision that the Center not only be at the  forefront of print and papermaking processes, but more importantly  for her, to facilitate the production of content that expanded  ideas in the art world as expressed through the realm of works on  paper and the art-ist populations who made them. To date the  Brodsky Center has host-ed about 400 visiting artists, 50 percent  of whom were women and 30 percent artists of color, from South  Africa, the former Soviet block countries, Japan, China, Canada,  Latin and South America, and the Middle East, as well as New  Jersey–based artists and the rest of the US (including Latinx and  Native American artists). These artists  collaborated with the  talented group of master print and papermak-ers based there.2 Many  major US and global museums, as well as  private collectors, have  acquired the artistic projects they created. The Center was also  part of an educational institution, where visual arts students  could learn print and papermaking alongside professional  artists,  emerging and established, and a vibrant academic community of  gender scholars and activists. Brodsky wanted to inspire students  and professional artists through exchange of ideas and working to- gether. Thus, the Center became a feminist model of democracy, an  inter-generational facilitator, while the art created there gave  voice to previously silenced cultures, contributing new narratives  to the Ameri-can cultural mainstream.3  What follows is an edited discussion, weaving together interviews  with Judith K. Brodsky that took place on March 4 and 25, 2018, as  well as a separate conversation held on April 13, 2018, with Gail  Deery, the founding master papermaker at the Brodsky Center.  ferris olin (fo): Judy, can you describe the origins of the  Brodsky Center and your vision for it? judith k. brodsky (jkb): I thought it would be wonderful to  establish a print shop on the East Coast. There was still a dearth  of print shops across the country and there certainly was nothing  like Tamarind in New Jersey.  In 1986, I was associate provost of the Rutgers–Newark campus, but  I wanted to leave administration and return to making art. I  thought I could put to use my experience with the Rutgers  bureaucracy by combining it with printmaking. My motivation for  establishing the Center came out of my involvement with the  Feminist Art Movement of the 1970s. I thought about all the people  who did not have access to print shops, namely women artists,  artists of color, artists from countries other than Western  Europe, and so on. I wanted to provide the opportunity to create  work in prints and paper for this population who didn't have  access to professional printmak-ing. But I didn't want to stop  there; it wasn't enough. I also wanted to insert women artists and  artists of color into the mainstream rather than staying on the  periphery.  We showed the work to museum curators and collectors. Very often  we visited an institution that had no living artists of color or  living women artists in their collections until they bought a  print from us. I felt we did a lot to bring inclusivity to the art  world. I'll never forget selling a print by Margo Humphrey, a  wonderful African-American artist, to the Museum of Modern Art. I  called Margo to tell her, and she got so excited that she dropped  the phone. I could hear this absolute scream of joy at the fact  that MoMA had bought one of her prints. As a university shop we  had easy access to curators. They trusted us, knowing that we were  not concerned about commercial success; rather we were thinking  about what was impor-tant in terms of the development of the  visual arts.  It was very gratifying particularly in those early days to have  the satis-faction of opening up the art world to artists who had  not had that much access to it. I should say that while the  university agreed to my setting up the print center, we were  required to find our own financial support and end up each year in  the black. In addition to marketing our editions, we received  significant grants annually from the New Jersey State Council on  the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and other funding  agencies; we also held non-credit workshops for various  populations including K–12; and we received contributions from  individual donors.  fo: What inspired you to establish papermaking at the shop and  tell me about its subsequent history at the Brodsky Center? jkb: It was really Gail4 who proposed the idea of papermaking to  us after she discovered that Steve Kasher wanted to sell his  equipment. I said "sure," provided she would become the  papermaker. Gail organized the papermak-ing studio and was the  master papermaker until she left to become a faculty member at the  Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in 2001. At that time, we  were so lucky to have Anne McKeown join us as master paper-maker  and fortunate that she works with us to this day. She continued to  develop the papermaking program, to raise it to new heights  through continued innovation, and to create collaborative work  with artists that re-ceived a lot of recognition. Our concept of  papermaking was not to make paper that would function only as a  base for the image. Our idea was that paper, itself, had to be  important to the artist's aesthetic intent. We had long  philosophical discussions about this idea. Instead of keeping  papermaking and printmaking separate, we decided that we should  work with the two of them together. Combining the two became very  exciting to us. A lot of that had to do with Gail's forward  thinking about paper and her collabo-rations with our printmakers  at that time, including Lynne Allen and Eileen Foti, and this  practice persisted with Anne's partnership with master printer  Randy Hemminghaus and others. It became something that artists  really loved doing. When we picked New Jer-sey Print and Paper  Fellows, we divided them up, so that half would work with the  master printer and half would work with Gail (and later Anne).  Often those projects crossed over, as well.  fo: Gail, can you fill in the details about how you both pitched  the idea of the papermaking studio to Judy, and then how you  imple-mented your vision? gail deery (gd): After Judy agreed to purchase Steve Kasher's  equip-ment, we built the new paper studio at RCIP, and then added  a new Hollander beater and a Dake press. The innovator and paper  engi-neer Lee Scott McDonald, who was designing equipment for Ken  Tyler at the time, was a constant resource and supporter while I  built the paper facility. Lee designed and built moulds and  equipment for drying systems and vacuum presses. The floor design  was efficient and complimented the research and production for new  projects. When I brought the idea to Judy, we both agreed that the  RCIP al-ready had an advanced professional print facility and  adding a paper facility would directly link paper and print  collaborations, giving art-ists access to both mediums at the same  time. Judy was committed to this idea and soon after the Center  became the RCIPP. My paper collaborations always utilized  printing; many were paper–print proj-ects. \[Ken\] Tyler opened the  door for print+pulp. This was a natural advancement that led to  experimentation for artists and collabora-tive printers. The RCIPP  began considering new possibilities with printing on unique  handmade papers and focused research on new developments for  creating systems as Tyler did back in the 1980s and 90s. Randy  Hemminghaus was hired at this time and was in-terested in all  combinations of mediums including handmade pa-per. Problem solving  and understanding the nature and challenges of printing on a sheet  of handmade paper was part of his practice. Later, Randy worked  out a system for printing photogravure on over-beaten abaca paper  for William Kentridge, which was thought to be nearly impossible.  fo: Besides the collaborations between the staff and visiting  artists, the Brodsky Center master papermakers also worked with  students in the Visual Arts Department. Judy, how did that come  about? jkb: The department didn't pay us to teach papermaking, but both  Gail and later Anne, thought about how to promote continuity and  development of new papermaking ideas through teaching. We started  a papermaking class that was extremely popular. The stu-dents  really got into papermaking and even came to the Brodsky Center as  interns. Students absolutely fell in love with the tactility of  the process, with the potential of paper to become a mode of art  making, and how it interacts with making things like artist books.  Interns worked on various projects that were being done by artists  in residence. Working closely with the master printers and paper- makers and artists helped develop professionalism on the part of  the students. On their side, the artists were delighted that we  didn't separate them from the students. I believe that the  combination at the Center of professional staff, artists, and  visual arts students was a really rich and vital mix. fo: This particular issue of Hand Papermaking is thematic,  entitled "Pulp the Patriarchy." It examines feminism and  papermaking. I'd like to focus now on feminism, your art practice,  and the work of the Brodsky Center. How do you define feminism and  how have you put it into practice? jkb: I really got involved with feminism in the first place when I  started teaching at Beaver College. In 1973 my department chair  Jack Davis came to me and said, "the women in Philadelphia are  doing something and you may want to get involved in it." He was  referring to the 1974 Philadelphia Focus on Women in the Visual  Arts (FO-CUS), the all-city feminist art festival. It was a man  who pushed me toward feminism, which is sort of ironic. When I had  been at graduate school I hadn't thought in terms of getting  involved with feminism. I thought "I don't need this; here I am  pursu-ing my career with a husband who encouraged me to go back to  graduate work despite two kids at home." Then I found out more  about what was happening with women artists: not just the  political aspect of it, but also the aesthetics. I really feel  that through feminist theory I came into my own as an artist. It  fitted the way I thought about my art, the art world, and  aesthetics in general. I was already heading in the direction  without realizing it—a proto-feminist. I created a lithograph-ic  narrative about the northern industrial wasteland of New Jersey—my  involvement with the environment is something that relates to  feminism. My series 100 Million Women Are Missing followed by a  10-year project Memoir of an Assimilated Family are narratives  about women's lives. I became involved with feminism on a national  level when Philadelphia artist Diane Burko, the originator of  FOCUS, nominated me for the presidency of the national Women's  Caucus for Art (WCA) in 1976, and I, in a moment of enthusiasm,  said "yes." The two-year presidency of the WCA then led me to my  long re-lationship with the College Art Association (CAA) where I  worked hard on making the CAA more inclusive and diverse, and that  culminated in my becoming president of CAA, from 1994 through  1996.5 fo: Well, in describing your feminist art making, I also want to  talk about the feminist context of the Brodsky Center. When you  and I met with Judy Chicago in 2005 to conceive The Feminist Art  Project, she commented to us that she was amazed that Rutgers was  a feminist institution. Can you re-count what you replied, and  explain the feminist context in which the Brodsky Center operated  at Rutgers University? jkb: Establishing the shop with the mission of benefit-ing women  and artists of color was feminist and came di-rectly out of my  activism in the 1970s. Feminist principles  also shaped the way  the shop was run. It was collaborative rather than hierarchic.  Everyone had a voice. A male graduate student at one point said to  me: "I wish I was a woman be-cause you're all having so much fun."  At that particular time the Visual Arts Department included  faculty such as Martha Rosler, Joan Semmel, Emma Amos, and Ardele  Lister, all fem-inists. I heard a similar sentiment said on the  outside, "you have to either be a woman artist or an artist of  color in order to get invited to the Brodsky Center." Apparently  we really made our point. Other departments at Rutgers had strong feminist faculty members,  Joan Marter in Art History, and you, Ferris, were then at the  Institute for Research on Women. There was an atmosphere at  Rutgers that allowed feminist points of view to flourish. We had  800 faculty members who were working on subjects that were gender- related. How we all had come to Rutgers at the same time is an  interesting phenomenon be-cause it didn't happen at other places.  You and I both realized how much feminist visual arts activity was  going on not just in New Brunswick, but also on the Newark and  Camden campuses. We decided to bring it all together—the whole  being greater than the parts—and so we proposed to the university  that we establish the Institute for Women and Art (IWA). We  received funding that we shared with colleagues across all  campuses, instead of keeping it only for our own campus. I think  our generosity was a feminist act in itself. The other  extraordinary thing we did was to become one of the first  institutions to concentrate on the problem of the aging artist and  on what happens to the artist's legacy. We focused on women, but  of course it is a problem for male artists as well. We also  established online feminist art history courses, run through the  Department of Women's and Gender Studies. They were enor-mously  successful and brought in revenue for the IWA as well as discre- tionary funding to the department. My answer to Judy Chicago was,  "it was all of us who were at Rutgers who were feminists that made  the university a feminist university." fo: Gail, will you reflect on your experiences at the RCIPP and  what values and strategies you brought with you to MICA and  Dolphin Press and Print? gd: At the RCIPP the collaborating team solicited artists that  were  emerging as Judy sought new directions for innovation and  narrative. The Center became an active atelier for exchange and I  forged life-long relationships with so many artists. Judy  developed opportunities for all of us as collaborators, and that  was unusual. We were very support-ed. Occasionally, when we worked  with international artists, they were surprised that the printers  were all women and were not accustomed to the dynamics across  genders.6 But things changed quickly as the col-laborations  developed. Judy positioned not only the RCIPP at the center of  artist publications, but also everyone who worked at the RCIPP.  The path for both teaching and collaborating was reinforced and  career pos-sibilities became evident. When I went to MICA in  Baltimore I real-ized the impact of the collaborations and the  valued experiences at the RCIPP. The importance of the  contribution to the field and my career, along with the importance  of diversifying collections in museums and  archives, and the  entrepreneurial aspects of this unique center were in-disputable.  Judy had the ability to see possibilities, and an innate sense of  what was coming in the future, and she educated the students and  staff in that approach. In this way the staff learned to be  visionaries, to think out of the box, especially as they moved  from Rutgers to other institutions.7  Author coda and acknowledgements: It is a timely coincidence that  as I was working on this article, I learned from my interviewees  the "break-ing news" about the Brodsky Center. In July 2018, the  Brodsky Center will have moved its operations to the Pennsylvania  Academy of Fine Arts (Philadelphia), and will be known as the  Brodsky Center at PAFA. As an art-world institution, the Brodsky  Center exemplifies what Elizabeth Sackler has characterized as a  "cultural catalyst" and a "strategic dis-rupter."8 It demonstrates  that a print and paper workshop can operate as a successful,  feminist, and inclusive art institution, and I look forward to its  continued, important work as the Brodsky Center at PAFA. In  conclu-sion I wish to thank both Judith K. Brodsky and Gail Deery  for making time to speak with me and for providing images to  accompany the article. I also want to acknowledge Anne Q. McKeown,  the Brodsky Center mas-ter papermaker from 2001 to present, who  met with me on May 16, 2018 to expand on the history of  papermaking at the Center in the twenty-first century. McKeown's  insights helped to shape the article, though she is not quoted in  it. She also provided many of the illustrations of visiting artists in residence who were at the Center since 2001. ___________  Notes 1. The renaming to Brodsky Center for Innovative Editions  (BCIE) honors its founding director and her husband, Judith K. and  David Brodsky. In the ensuing ten years, the atelier abbreviated  its name and is now known simply as the Brodsky Center. The Winter  1997 issue of Hand Papermaking featured an article about the RCIPP  (Rose Gonnella, "RCIPP, a Center for Collaborations," 9–14); and  in the Winter 1999 issue of Hand Papermaking Gail Deery and Mina  Takahashi described a joint project of the RCIPP and Dieu Donné  Papermill to transform the economy in Ecuadorian villages  ("Economic Development in Ecuador," 20–26). 2. Brodsky Center administrators included Lynne Allen,  Kathleen Goncharov, Thomas W. Lollar, Marti Mayo, and Paola  Morisani. Master print and papermakers were Lynne Allen, Gail  Deery, Eileen Foti, William Haberman, Randy Hemminghaus, John  Hutcheson, and Anne Q. McKeown. Many other staff members were  printers and papermakers for shorter periods of times over the  years, some of whom were undergraduate and graduate students in  the Visual Arts Department. 3. In the June 1992 RCIP mission statement, Brodsky wrote:  "The RCIP mission is to provide the opportunity to produce fine  art print editions for artists who are contributing new narratives  to the American cultural mainstream. Over 30 percent of the  artists who have worked at the RCIP are artists of color, at least  half are women, and about 10 percent have come from other  countries important to the culture of the United States." 4. Gail Deery had spent several years at Dieu Donné working  with Paul Wong and Sue Gosin before her fellowship at the RCIP.  She had been in the second group of New Jersey Print Fellows (in  1988), and according to Brodsky it was she who suggested that  Deery apply to Rutgers MFA Program. McKeown joined the Brodsky  Center after receiving her MFA at Yale. 5. Brodsky has subsequently led other professional  organizations, e.g., as president of ArtTable, and currently  serves as board president of the New York Foundation for the Arts. 6. Deery mentioned a photo in ArtNews which pictured the  RCIPP staff. The image captured an all-female staff standing  around a Takach electric press, "but also that was whom we were."  She thought this was a strategic move on Judy's part to address  the gender question.  7. Brodsky and Deery identified several of the many staff/ students who worked at the RCIPP/Brodsky Center and later went  into visual arts education and/or headed departments at other  institutions. Besides Deery, they include Lynne Allen (Director,  Boston University's School of Visual Arts), Patricia Carter  (Chair, Betty Foy Sanders Department of Art, Georgia Southern  University), Carson Fox (Hofstra University), Eileen Foti (William  Paterson University), Melissa Potter (Director, Book and Paper MFA  at Columbia College, Chicago, now closed), and Cynthia Thompson  (Director, Graduate Programs in Book Arts + Printmaking and Studio  Arts at University of the Arts, Philadelphia). 8. Sackler is former board chair of the Brooklyn Museum and  founder of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art  (Brooklyn Museum). She used these terms in her introduction to  Lowery Stokes Sims, who was recognized at the April 2017 ArtTable  annual luncheon with their Distinguished Service Award. Sims, like  Brodsky, is an innovative arts professional who worked as an  educator and curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was  executive director and then president of The Studio Museum in  Harlem, and served as the Charles Bronfman International Curator  and then the William and Mildred Lasdon Chief Curator at the  Museum of Arts and Design (MAD). She currently holds the title of  Curator Emerita at MAD.