Building an Online Print Workshop

screenshot of the Phillips's Jasper Johns printmaking interactive

Recent exhibition Jasper Johns: Variations on a Theme focused on Johns’s creative impulses and collaborations with several distinguished print shops. To produce events and content for the exhibition, Phillips staff also engaged in rich, inter-departmental collaborations. Assistant Curator Renée Maurer and Digital Media Manager Michelle Herman teamed up to create the museum’s first ever in-house microsite Jasper Johns: Variations on a Theme Printmaking Workshop. They reflect on the process here. 

Renée Maurer: From the beginning, I wanted there to be a workshop for visitors to see the tools of printmaking. I also wanted there to be a program where visitors could experience firsthand how to make a print. I worked with Brooke Rosenblatt and Amanda Jiron-Murphy in the education department to bring master printer Scip Barnhart to the museum for a program. We decided Scip’s event would have to be small as it would take place in the workshop adjacent to the exhibition. I was able borrow materials from Scip for the show, and he agreed to lead a type of printmaking class. His enthusiasm for the program and for Johns was so high that he even made a lithographic stone and an etching plate with imagery from the exhibition for the occasion, which he pulled (ahead of time) for attendees.

Michelle Herman: A working group that I lead considered ways to feature digital content from the exhibition on the Phillips website. After looking at various examples such as MoMA’s What is a Print?, we devised a plan to shoot Scip’s workshop on video and showcase it in a custom-built microsite. This would allow the workshop to have an impact beyond its small in-person audience. We enlisted A/V Support Specialist Mark Weiner to accomplish this task. Scips’ program was filmed and then edited down to focus on the three printmaking processes: etching, lithography, and silkscreen. Renée recorded voice-over to describe Scip’s actions and added contextual information for the site based on the concepts from the exhibition.

Renée Maurer: Everyone did a fantastic job. Mark was great; he had to cut and paste a lot of footage, and then we had to match my narration with the steps that Scip was performing. Michelle offered a wonderful vision.

Michelle Herman: I worked on the concept, design, and development of the interactive. Assisted by my summer interns Jordan Albro (designer extraordinaire) and Michelle Shen (HTML guru), I began to think about how the site would look and function. I tasked Jordan and Michelle to research potential model sites that focused on video content. After reviewing several of them, we decided to build the site as a single page that would allow the user to fluidly scroll between each of the three sections. After spending time in the exhibition, I was really captured by Johns’s use of different paper colors and the rough textures he created through some of the print processes. I knew the interactive should mimic this textural quality.

I developed the initial design concept and explained my idea to Jordan (who acted as junior designer on the project). He then turned these digital sketches into backgrounds and other components of the site. The result is layered, complex, and just beautiful. While Jordan was refining the design, Michelle (who served as the site developer) began coding. Her HTML skills were incredibly impressive—and fast! My team presented these concepts to Renée, who was very receptive and excited by our ideas. We then pushed forward to create the site. With the addition of a new multimedia section to our recently relaunched website, the Jasper Johns interactive now has a home and can serve as a resource going forward.

Renée Maurer: I think the site looks terrific, and we will continue to update it. I would definitely work on an interactive like this again. The only problems we encountered had to do with scheduling. Shooting and reviewing the footage was also more challenging than I expected. Overall it was a great learning experience. I enjoyed working with colleagues in different departments and with technology.

Renée Maurer, Assistant Curator, and Michelle Herman, Digital Media Manager

Six Degrees of Separation: A Tour


Photo: Joshua Navarro

Start your visit on the 2nd floor of The Phillips Collection, outside the Rothko Room, and discover watercolors by John Cage. Primarily known as an avant-garde composer, Cage turned the sounds of an audience’s awkward, ambient shuffling into music. (Return to the museum at 4 pm on September 6 for a full Cage experience, as part of the John Cage Centennial Festival, starting with a panel discussion on Cage’s work and collaborations, including his friendship with Jasper Johns, and culminating with a performance by Irvine Arditti of the impossible-to-perform Freeman Etudes for solo violin.)


Photo: Cecilia Wichmann

Continue up the curving stairway to special exhibition Jasper Johns: Variations on a Theme, and you’ll find prints by Johns that share in Cage’s sense of humor. Johns too makes art out of his audience in works like High School Days (1969), a lead embossed shoe of the kind that lends a naughty view when strategically polished and placed beneath a woman’s skirt. Johns has embedded a mirror in the toe so the curious viewer glimpses only his or her own eye. He made this innovative lead relief and others at Los Angeles print publisher Gemini G.E.L. Towards the end of the exhibition look for Ocean (1994), a lithograph of a dancer leaping over abstracted map forms. The dancer is none other than Merce Cunnningham, the avant-garde choreographer who was also a friend to Johns and Cage.


Photo: Kate Boone

In 1967, Frank Stella designed a set and costumes for a dance piece by Cunningham named Scramble.  That same year, he created his first prints and, like Johns, collaborated with Gemini G.E.L. In one print made that year, Marriage of Reason and Squalor, Stella revisited his iconic 1959 black painting. Walk from the Johns exhibition into the original Phillips house, through the Main Gallery, down a few steps, and past the Klees, and you’ll find Stella’s small work on paper, which was gifted to the Phillips in 1991.


Photo: Joshua Navarro

A luminous glow beckons you beyond Stella’s print, into a gallery with a fireplace, a single bench, and a solitary 60″ x 60″ (but digitally infinite) artwork. Scramble (2011) is Leo Villareal’s response to a conversation he shared with Frank Stella as part of a panel discussion on Kandinsky at the Phillips the previous year. Sharing a name with Stella’s Cunningham collaboration, this work reminds of motion and dance with LEDs relentlessly shifting (and never repeating) their patterns of color. Visitors remark that the contemporary color field is like millions of digital Rothkos.


Photo: Robert Lautman

With your mind thus saturated (and somewhat scrambled), you may now be craving a respite in the Rothko Room. Wind your way back to the 2nd floor of the Goh Annex, where you began with Cage, and enter the small chamber which is also appointed with a single bench (that was the artist’s idea). The Rothko Room is always there for you. (The permanent, meditative installation inspired a new commission, something to look forward to next year, but for now the scent of beeswax remains absent from your tour.)


Photo: Robert Lautman

Turn left out of the Rothko Room toward a stairway and red wall. Pause on the landing and look out the window. Straight ahead, on the far wall of the courtyard, floats Ellsworth Kelly’s swooping untitled bronze. Villareal’s recent body of work includes a Kelly-inspired piece, Coded Spectrum, in addition to his work in conversation with Stella.

Cecilia Wichmann, Publicity and Marketing Manager