At the IFPDA (International Fine Print Dealers Association) print fair, new collectors share the aisles with major buyers and connoisseurs, and 16th-century Old Masters hang among the most contemporary prints on the market. As the largest international art fair exclusively dedicated to prints, the fair offers encyclopedic coverage of the history of the medium and exposure for collectors to works they may have never considered. But what exactly is a print fair, and why should we go? Nearing the opening of the fair, Artsy caught up with Michele Senecal, executive director of the IFPDA, to find out what comprises a print fair, what makes the experience so valuable to collectors, and which works—from rare 1970s prints by Cy Twombly to brand new Peter Doig editions—she can’t wait to see up close.
Artsy: What is a print fair?
Michele Senecal: A print fair is essentially an art fair that focuses on one form of artistic output. That’s what really sets it apart from any other art fair: It gives you a comprehensive, art-historical perspective on printmaking, where it’s been and who, among major artists, has used printmaking as a form of self-expression. And not only that, it also carries us to the leading edge of what contemporary artists are doing now. The newest projects will be available at the fair, many for the first time.
Artsy: Why should we go?
Michele Senecal: I don’t think there’s any other event anywhere in the world that can teach you as much about the artists who used etching, lithography, woodcut, and modern-day techniques to express themselves than this event. With 90 exhibitors, it is the largest fair for fine prints and editions. For example, Art Basel has an editions section, but there’s probably only 20 or 30 dealers there and the emphasis is on contemporary and postwar works. In addition to the historical scope, there’s also a strong international character to the New York event. You’re not just looking at Western artists; you’ll find Japanese Ukiyo-e woodcuts, for example, which have influenced and continue to inspire Western artists.
But the best thing is that you’ll be exposed to objects you never thought you were interested in. We’ve had collectors come to the fair who strictly collect very edgy, contemporary artists’ work and who will end up buying an Old Master print. Once people start collecting, I think they start with the art of their time, and then gradually begin to peel back the layers and say: Wow, maybe I do need to have something from the 16th or 17th century. Maybe that’s interesting to me. Maybe I’ll discover something that comes from another place and time that relates to my collecting interests.
Artsy: How is the fair especially useful to collectors?
MS: I think that one of fair’s main attractions is that it’s not only really accessible to a newer collector but that it also draws the major connoisseurs in the medium: the leading collectors, museums with important collections—because they know that exhibiting dealers reserve their most important works for this fair. So, while you might be new to purchasing art, you’re walking through the fair alongside museum directors and curators. And you’re able to look at six- and seven-figure works—the top examples of the medium—as well as those that are very affordable. A collector is also able to talk to the top dealers, who are frequently among the leading scholars in the medium. IFPDA dealers have a special commitment to education and are very open and accessible about answering questions. I think that creating this context where one can see where the medium has been and where it’s going creates a lot of options for collectors.
Artsy: Can you explain what a fine print is? What are common misconceptions about prints?
MS: The most important point to make about prints at the fair is that they were created by the artist because the artist wanted to make a print. The other distinctive quality is that most are multiples, which means that the artist or master printer was able to create multiple impressions of the artist’s composition by inking a stone, metal plate, wood or Plexiglas and running it through a press multiple times. This multiplicity creates opportunities for collectors to own prints from editions by major artists that are also held in museum collections. As a collector, I can tell you it’s a fantastic experience to walk into a museum and see they’ve chosen an impression from the same edition that you have. In terms of misconceptions, I think the main one is that people think that a print is a copy of a painting or a copy of a drawing, that it’s not a unique work. In reality, the artist’s intention to make a print is their defining characteristic. So, for example, with Whistler or Cassatt or many artists, we see in their prints experimentation with image, light, color or contrast that they could only achieve with printmaking.
Artsy: What are the most common types of prints to collect?
MS: That’s a hard question to answer. I don’t think you can begin with a preconceived idea of what you should have; I think you have to be attracted by the object. People do often ask me, “Should I collect etchings or lithographs?” And the answer is: You should collect what you find appealing—the method is not important. Just as every artist decides what method excites them and best serves what they wish to express, a collector should allow themselves the freedom to acquire a work of art they can’t stop thinking about.
Artsy: How are prints valuable to a new collector?
MS: Prints are a great entry point because they enable you to collect works by major artists. Take for example, Richard Serra. His sculptures aren’t that obtainable for most of us, and yet he does a lot of printmaking. I can purchase a print that Richard Serra has made, take it home and enjoy it, and see it every morning when I wake up. So I think prints give people access to “blue chip” artists whose sculptures or paintings are just out of reach at the beginning. As a gateway to collecting, they’re wonderful, because you can build a collection on par with the print collections of many museums.
Artsy: Who collects prints?
MS: It’s really, Who collects art? I think it’s so diverse. Our population ranges from the top connoisseurs in the medium, museums, and artists to accomplished professionals, media and cultural figures, museum patrons; generally people who share a love of living with art and who want it in their daily life. I mean, I don’t think there’s a special profile of the kind of person who collects prints.
In terms of collecting interests, it’s quite interesting to look at what artists choose when they collect. They really exemplify the freedom we should allow ourselves as collectors whether they are focusing on one area or mixing it up. Many want to look back into art history and collect from other periods, artists from other centuries that have been a source of inspiration or with whom they feel a kinship. Last summer, Richard Tuttle, who collects German prints of the Romantic era, organized an exhibition of landscape etchings made in the 1790s. This show was a great revelation. [A great resource is “Artists Collect: Prints from the Collections of Sol LeWitt, Kiki Smith, Philip Taaffe, and Richard Tuttle”.]