Fine and Dirty: Contemporary Letterpress Art

Fine and Dirty: Contemporary Letterpress Art
July 8 – October 16, 2011
Star Tribune Foundation Galllery

Fine & Dirty: Contemporary Letterpress Art assembles work by over 40 established and emerging artists from around the world, reflecting the extraordinary diversity of this practice, Together, these works comprise the best in letterpress books today.

The practice of letterpress printing incorporates craft standards and the book’s haptic character, along with art world strategies, materials and content. The resulting work can continue traditions in literary and typographical primacy, or ideas about craft can be filtered through interests in content, materials and structure. Work includes books that explore literary content traditionally associated with letterpress, as well as books created in response to social or political concerns; books directed by conceptual programs or sign systems; and books created through strategies such as chance and improvisation. Finally, although every letterpress book by definition contributes to a tactile and sensual art experience, the exhibition includes works that display a strong material or sculptural presence.

The exhibition also investigates wider cultural influences evidenced in current letterpress work. These include D.I.Y. (Do It Yourself); Asian influences such as wabi sabi; and other international influences such as (from the UK) Ken Campbell’s improvisatory approach and Ron King’s theatrical presentations, and (from Germany) a heightened focus on design and an inventive selection of papers.


The showing of Fine & Dirty: Contemporary Letterpress Art coincided with MCBA’s second Book Art Biennial, an academic symposium for discussion and analysis of contemporary issues in the book arts. The exhibition toured around the country for two years, including to the Center for Book Arts in New York City. An exhibition catalog was produced by the CBA; the catalog included an essay by co-curator Betty Bright that explores the forces reshaping the meanings of craft in letterpress printing in the twenty-first century. Those observations may in turn shed light on the evolving role of letterpress in the worlds of craft, art and life.