Mary Weaver Chapin's IFPDA Fine Art Print Fair Online Picks

Oct 16, 2020 12:58PM

This time of year always means “Print Fair,” so I am thrilled that the IFPDA has found a way to replicate some of the joys of the season.

Mary Weaver Chapin, Curator of Prints and Drawings, Portland Art Museum

IFPDA Executive Director reached out to Portland Art Museum curator Mary Weaver Chapin with an invitation to browse the booths of the IFPDA Fine Art Print Fair. "It was a great project, and very challenging to winnow down my selections. At least I didn't have to worry about my budget! Following my theme of 'caprice,' I didn't put the prints in chronological order."


This time of year always means “Print Fair,” so I am thrilled that the IFPDA has found a way to replicate some of the joys of the season. Although scrolling through virtual booths is a different experience than being together in person, the same sense of discovery and anticipation accompanied my perusal online. Determined to find a sophisticated curatorial theme to impress my professional colleagues and delight every reader, I amassed dozens and dozens of images before I came upon Mark Dion’s Thorny Territory. There, in the form of a cactus, the artist lays out the curator’s dilemma: collect to fill gaps, or build on strengths? Support rising artists or stick to the A-list? Near the base of the prickly succulent, I found my theme and justification: Curator Caprice. What follows is my capricious selection spanning six centuries of the graphic arts and featuring work that that surprised me and stuck in my mind like an artistic thorn from Dion’s cactus.

My first caprice is Analía Saban’s ode to the humble shopping bag. Saban is a connoisseur of the mundane, transforming everyday objects and surfaces into prints worthy of contemplation. Her clothing labels are just as beguiling. I can’t choose!

Analía Saban
THANK YOU Plastic Bag, 2016
Jonathan Novak Contemporary Art

The year 2020 has often felt like a missing sheet from Albrecht Dürer’s masterpiece The Apocalypse, a series of woodcuts carved on the eve of 1500, when it was rumored that the world would end. Who can’t relate to the drama of The Babylonian Whore? Even the seven-headed hydra seems overwhelmed by the chaos of the end times.

Some Old Masters make the extraordinary quite ordinary, allowing us to relate to mystical events. Rembrandt’s depiction of St. Jerome is a remarkable portrait of a willow tree that just happens to shelter a saint and his faithful lion. St. Jerome’s reading glasses, which slide down his nose, and humble sun hat on the bench beside him makes him seem like one of us.

I can’t resist prints that gently satirize the art market. In Bottini’s print, fashionable women rush to the Galerie Sagot to examine the latest impressions, just as we rush to the IFPDA Fair.

Curators and collectors are often eager to share their finds. In that spirit, I happily point to the work of Dyani White Hawk. Last year, I rounded a corner at Print Fair and came face to face with her four-part screenprint series Takes Care of Them. It was just the sort of surprise and discovery we dream of at the Fair. The Portland Art Museum now owns a set. Are you next?

Finally, I must point to Derrick Adams’ Boy on Swan Float, a screenprint depicting an artificial, pneumatic waterfowl with a serene child enjoying the pool on a hot day. It reads as an homage to simple pleasures, a sly comment on our plastic culture, and a social statement suggesting that leisure “is a political act when embraced by black communities,” in the words of the artist. I can’t get it out of my mind.


Mary Weaver Chapin joined the Portland Art Museum in 2012. She oversees a large and varied collection of more than 20,000 prints, posters, artists’ books, and drawings that date from the fifteenth century to the present. She keeps a busy schedule curating loan shows as well as thematic exhibitions that highlight the riches of the permanent collection from the Old Masters to contemporary. A specialist in nineteenth-century French art, Chapin is a noted expert on Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Chapin is a graduate of Wellesley College and earned her doctorate from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. She serves as the vice-president of the Print Council of America. She writes and lectures widely on the graphic arts from the eighteenth-century to the present, and is the author of the catalogue raisonné of the graphic work of contemporary artist Warrington Colescott. She is currently preparing a major exhibition and catalogue on the Nabi artists in partnership with the Cleveland Museum of Art: Private Lives: Home and Family in the Art of the Nabis, Paris 1889-1900.