Alchemical Reaction: The Making of Michael Joo's '7 Sins'

BY Angeline Dimambro, March 24, 2021

The LeRoy Neiman Gallery’s current online exhibition showcases the 2016 collaboration between Visual Arts mentor Michael JooAdjunct Professor Nathan Catlin ’12 and students at the Neiman Center to realize his groundbreaking series of silvered printscreens, entitled 7 Sins.


Joo is a New York based artist. He uses sculpture, performance and installation in his work, as well as a combination of scientific language and complex structures that exemplify and parody the potential of form. His artwork is included in the collections of the Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, in addition to countless others. A monograph of his work was published by Other Criteria in 2007. He teaches in the MFA programs at Columbia University and Bard College, and lives and works in Red Hook, Brooklyn.


Catlin, Master Printer and Print Shop Manager at the LeRoy Neiman Center, works in a variety of media in addition to printmaking including painting, sculpture, stained glass and site-specific murals. He received his BFA in Printmaking from San Francisco Art Institute before receiving his MFA from Columbia’s Visual Arts Program. He has shown his work in exhibitions both domestic and abroad.


The LeRoy Neiman Gallery hosts a wide array of exhibitions throughout the year, showcasing the work of invited artists, Visual Arts faculty, undergraduate and graduate students and work produced in the LeRoy Neiman Center for Print Studies. Transitioning to a virtual exhibition format, Alchemical Reaction documents the process behind Joo’s 7 Sins

“I had too many ideas in mind,” Joo said, “but through thoughtful discussion, demonstrations, and experimentation, was able to work closely with the Artistic Director, Tomas Vu, and Master Printer, Nathan Catlin, to merge some of the material and process exploration already going on in my studio with the expertise, sensitivity and talent they brought to the table. I was blown away that he was also game for my suggestion that we stage one part of the process in making my 7 Sins edition of prints outside of the Center and in my own studio working together.”


The silver screenprints demanded a methodical and unconventional approach. The exhibition details the process alongside photographs of Joo and his collaborators: “By screenprinting epoxy ink onto paper and then treating it with a mix of silvering chemicals, it was discovered that the result was a lasting silvered image. Because of the variety of ways the chemistry responded to the surface, the project developed into a small, variable edition of 8. Each image from 7 Sins is identified by a specific number of calories, which corresponds with an activity and the energy units required to complete it.”


The variation in the prints themselves points to Joo’s openness and enthusiasm for experimentation, as well as how he blurs the boundary between art and science. In fact, scientific inquiry is a central component of Joo’s artistic practice (he is also, notably, the child of scientists). As the exhibition highlights, Joo “pursues the ‘potential and possibilities’ of scientific inquiry rather than hard and fast empirical conclusions, leaving the door open for the alchemical or chance effects of art to take hold.”


“The Neiman Center is such a unique and precious dynamo of production and collaborative exchange for students and working artists alike,” Joo said in his artist interview with the center. “My time working with them was a gift and their legacy of works is an important contribution to contemporary art of our time. Great coffee as well.”


Visit the online exhibition here through April 2, 2021. The LeRoy Neiman Center for Print Studies is a not-for-profit print shop located in the School of the Arts at Columbia University.