Press Ahead: Contemporary Prints Gifted by Helen and Russell Novak

In 2015, Chicago collectors Helen and Russell Novak made the single largest and most important gift of art to the KMA’s contemporary print collection in the museum’s history. Press Ahead: Contemporary Prints Gifted by Helen and Russell Novak represents the official unveiling of this remarkable gift. The exhibition features 38 works by leading contemporary artists from around the world including Roger Brown, John Buck, Christo, Lesley Dill, Jim Dine, Helen Frankenthaler, Red Grooms, Sol LeWitt, and Barbara Takenaga William T. Wiley, and by younger artists such as Brad Brown, Enrique Chagoya, Tom Huck, Jiha Moon, and Hans Schabus. Some artists are leading printmakers while others work primarily in other media, but became interested in collaborating with master printers in order to realize their ideas in print-based formats. The KMA’s selection includes great examples of each artist’s work, prints produced in small editions, and those representing a broad range of printmaking techniques and formats (including sculptural and book format prints).

Exhibition NOTES

Press Ahead: Contemporary Prints Gifted by Helen and Russell Novak

The Novak’s collection includes thousands of contemporary prints acquired over a period of more than 30 years. The collection is noteworthy for its size and breadth, and because of Russell Novak’s close ties to such prominent master printers Jack Lemon and Bud Shark, who run two of the country’s premier print studios—Landfall Press and Shark’s Ink, respectively. Each year, Lemon and Shark would send the Novaks limited edition print portfolios, out of which the couple selected certain prints to be matted and framed for display. The collection has grown to a point at which framed works fill the walls of their home and of Russell’s corporate office space housing the accounting firm of Novak/Costello.

The Novaks chose to donate works to the KMA rather than area Chicago museums for several reasons. First, they became interested in the KMA thanks to Helen’s childhood friend, Knoxville educator Marilyn Liberman, who introduced Helen to the KMA. Marilyn also alerted the KMA about the Novaks and their collection, especially after learning that Helen had expressed interest in placing portions of the collection with suitable museums. The Novaks soon realized their gift to the KMA could eventually become a centerpiece for the museum’s works on paper collection. Their interest in placing the works at the KMA was heightened by the museum’s long association with contemporary printmaking (Dulin Gallery’s print competition ran from the early 1960s until the late 1980s), and the presence in Knoxville of the UTK School of Art’s Printmaking Program (ranked #2 in the country in 2017 by U.S. News & World Report). In this way, Press Ahead celebrates the Novak’s generosity, and underscores the important role of their gift in enabling KMA visitors to explore contemporary printmaking and the exciting range of expressive possibilities and technical approaches it encompasses.

For a full listing of the Novak’s gifts, please click here.