When Karel Martens began studying art in Holland in the late 1950s, “graphic design” did not even exist as its own course of study. Today, he is widely recognized as one of the most important practitioners of that very discipline, with an esteemed client list that includes major publishers, architects, and institutions. Concurrent with his commissioned work, Martens has developed an impressive body of monoprints, which have been widely published, but only recently exhibited. Created on a small bookbinder’s press, the prints are a site for visual experimentation and formal research for Martens, who works on them nearly every day. They are made by imprinting found forms into recycled materials, such as castaway collection cards from museums, blank documents, discarded identity records, and raw packing paper. The motif on a single print my take several years to develop, subject to constant reexamination and overprinting by Martens. Sometimes, these images find their way into commissioned projects. Often, however, the prints exist only as unique fragments of an ongoing process of looking and thinking, occupying an unusual position between design and art. Indeed, Martens’s unwavering commitment to experimenting with printing processes, the graphic form, and construction of typographic meaning over the past half century has indelibly marked the visual and intellectual work of a younger generation of designers and artists.
The selection of works at the Carpenter Center ranges from the late 1980s to present, and is displayed in an informal manner that reflects the open-ended and speculative method of its production.
Since the initial presentation of his monoprints in 2012 at P! in New York, Martens’s letterpress works have been published in Artforum’s “Best of 2012, ” The New Yorker, Art in America, The Observer, Design Observer, and others. They have been exhibited internationally in the Netherlands, Japan, Australia, China, and England and are now in collections such as the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Museums of Modern Art Library and Archives, New York; and the Art Institute of Chicago. Martens’s accolades include the H.N. Werkman Prize (1993) for the design of the architectural journal Oase, the Dr. A.H. Heineken Prize for Art (1996), the Gold Medal at the Leipzig Book Fair (1998), the Gerrit Noordzij Prize (2012), and numerous other distinctions. He teaches regularly at the Yale School of Art and co-founded the Werkplaats Typografie in 1997. Martens is currently a mentor in the master’s program at the Design Academy Eindhoven (department Contextual Design).
An exhibition program that utilizes the existing form of a large display case measuring four-by-twenty feet. Located on Level 0 near the Harvard Film Archive, Display Case hosts recurring exhibitions and installations by artists whose practices explore the intersections of media, advertising, art, and consumerism.