The pieces presented in this forty-year retrospective are bright and smooth, often dauntingly large, and composed of multiple parts that cluster together like organisms in an ecosystem or diverse components within a cell. They are frequently plantlike, vital and faintly menacing, and sport attachments that suggest insect pincers or lobster claws. They’re organic and goofy, as if they’d grown themselves, rather than being made. Yet at the same time there is something stubbornly artificial in their fantastic symmetries.
A quartet of anatomical drawings from Munich, printed perhaps a hundred years ago, are especially lovely. Lakra has “tattooed” the forearms and torsos with pale blue marks; he has also transformed a man into a saint, blending science and religion, art and iconography, showing that decoration can sanctify or vandalize.
It’s the photoetching, a 1974 work called “The Train,” that is really breath-taking. It seems to take on the complicated issues of the African Diaspora, the art it produced, and Western views of that art, as well as presenting a moment from the struggle for Civil Rights. The faces that look out at us from the page are communicative and knowing, their gazes complicated and reproachful, and the liquid softness of the watercolor combines with the horizontal lines of the etching to create a beautiful, powerful work you can stand in front of for a long time.
The earlier prints from each series are flatter, the lines more bold and calligraphic, the details stranger. The later images show the rising influence of the renaissance: the figures bear their weight in sophisticated contrapposto stances, the realistically-rendered bodies are more beautiful. It’s illuminating to see these works grouped together, to follow their stories in and out of changing historical styles and Dürer’s own artistic and intellectual development.