Assembling a print exhibition around a specific theme can be a drawn-out and difficult task - especially if its organizer wants it to be both definitive and attractive and to include as many good, but little-known, impressions as it can borrow from museums, collectors, and dealers. The one gallery for whom this is relatively easy is Associated American Artists. Not only is it one of New York's oldest and best-known purveyors of prints, but its collection of graphic works is so extensive that it can often put together large and important shows entirely from its own holdings.
``Nightlife,'' the gallery's current offering, is a perfect example. It is visually appealing, does justice to a fascinating but seldom-examined aspect of American printmaking, and includes examples by a large number of both famous and relatively obscure graphic artists, all of whom have been represented, directly or indirectly, by this gallery at one time or other.
As Roberta Lehrman, the exhibition's curator, writes in the show's catalog, ``The night and its inhabitants have clearly intrigued American artists in the 20th century. `Nightlife' amply demonstrates the fascination of over 50 such artists by presenting a broad selection of images depicting the night.
``The works often portray strikingly similar subjects ... with widely dissimilar results.... The common thread that runs through all these works ... is fascination with all aspects of life at night.... These night images are both exciting and insightful because they unveil a side of life often hidden by daylight.''
Accomplished American printmakers
Included among these images are several by America's most accomplished printmakers. These range in time from John Sloan, Edward Hopper, and George Bellows (whose dramatic ``Solitude'' of 1917 is one of the stars of the show), through Martin Lewis and Paul Landacre of the 1930s and '40s (the former's ``Trumbull Street'' and the latter's ``Children's Carnival'' are fine examples of drypoint etching and wood engraving, respectively), to such current graphic masters as Yvonne Jacquette and Jane Dickson.
Of particular interest are Fritz Eichenberg's ``The Gay Nineties,'' Kyra Markham's ``July 4th, 1936,'' and John Winkler's ``Night in Chinatown.''
At Associated American Artists, 20 West 57th Street, through Sept. 12.
Theodore F. Wolff is art critic of The Christian Science Monitor.