Image: Review of Joan Snyder at the Zimmerli Art Museum
Installation view of "Dancing With the Dark: Joan Snyder Prints 1963-2010” at the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum in New Brunswick.
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Review of Joan Snyder at the Zimmerli Art Museum The Consciousness of a Feminist Expressionist

14 May 2011

By Martha Schwendener

For many painters, prints serve as a place to try out new ideas, experiment in a different medium or circulate their images in a reproducible format, while earning some extra money. Sometimes, however, a print exhibition can feel like a vital key to an artist's career. Such is the case with "Dancing With the Dark: Joan Snyder Prints 1963-2010" at the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum in New Brunswick.

Ms. Snyder is most often described as an Expressionist and a feminist. Artists generally don't like being summed up by "isms" (who would?), but "Dancing With the Dark" underscores rather than challenges this formulation. And Ms. Snyder doesn't dispute these designations.

"I was a German Expressionist!" she is quoted as saying in the catalog accompanying the exhibition. "It's in the blood. My ancestors were Russian and German." (Ms. Snyder, who lives in Brooklyn and Woodstock, N.Y., was born and raised in Highland Park, N.J., and attended Douglass College in New Brunswick, then received a Master of Fine Arts degree from Rutgers, making this a homecoming show of sorts.)

Black and white woodcuts from Ms. Snyder's Rutgers days show her working firmly within the German Expressionist lineage, particularly the early-20th-century group Die Brücke (the Bridge), based in Dresden, which saw woodcuts as a way of reviving German medieval and folk art traditions. "Portrait of Emily," "Portrait of Jona Mach" and "Moe" from 1963, with their rough outlines describing gaunt, haunted faces, uncannily resemble Die Brücke prints. A reproduction of Emil Nolde's 1912 woodcut "Prophet" in the catalog bears this out. 

But even these early graduate-student works show the stirrings of what might be called a feminist consciousness. Where Nolde's gape-eyed figure is an anonymous but grandly titled "Prophet," Ms. Snyder's prints portray people she knew, sometimes on specific occasions, predicting the feminist drive toward the personal-as-political.

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