Jennifer Ramkalawon's IFPDA Fine Art Print Fair Online Picks
IFPDA Executive Director Jenny Gibbs invited Jennifer Ramkalawon, Curator, British Museum Department of Prints and Drawings, to choose a list of her favorites from among the online booths of IFPDA Fine Art Print Fair.
I was delighted to be invited to select works from the 2020 IFPDA print fair. Overwhelmed by the sheer volume of outstanding works in the booths, I felt I could only make sense of what I’d seen by curating a small selection of prints that caught my eye. It was a useful visual exercise for me - it’s a totally personal choice, based on current curatorial interests and sheer curiosity because at every print fair I am always delighted to rediscover old friends and discover new ones.
I’ve recently been dealing with French nineteenth-century prints in the British Museum’s collection, so was pleased to see the presence of three of my favourite printmakers from that period represented at the fair. Jules Jacquemart, Félix Buhot and Félix Bracquemond are hardly household names but were all celebrated at the time for their incredible dexterity as etchers. Etchings were enjoying a revival in the1860s and Alfred Cadart, aParis publisher, addressed the growing demand for etchings by setting up the ‘Société des Aquafortistes’ (Society of Etchers) in 1862 by publishing volumes of prints designed to promote etchings and Jacquemart’s print appeared in Cardet’s first volume. I find the wealth of detail and intensity of line in Jacquemart’s jumble of discarded footwear absolutely astonishing. Félix Buhot’s witty print celebrates the superiority of etching. Engraving is dead, its time is over and its funeral takes place on the left with the engraver’s tool, the burin, held aloft by a mass of putti escorting it to heaven. A modern etching press hurtles towards the viewer on the back of a steam train, heralding a new era of printmaking. Bracquemond’s masterpiece of etching is full of exquisite details, from the ornate mirror frame in the background to the silk cravat of the sitter, Edmond de Goncourt. Note the delicious detail, bottom left, of a tiny wisp of cigarette smoke.
There appear to be a wealth of German Expressionist prints on view this year. A wonderful woodcut by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner of a nude seen from behind clearly shows the influence of Jugendstil and Félix Vallotton, important influences on the Brücke artists at the time. The two magnificent Karl Schmidt-Rottluff woodcuts date from the artist’s most prolific period when he was most influenced by African tribal art.
More German prints, this time from the ‘Neue Sachlichkeit’ period. Created two years before his terrifying series ‘Der Krieg’ which depicts the horrors of war, this print is from Otto Dix’s marvellous 1922 ‘Circus’ portfolio. Here we see Lillian Leitzel, the famousacrobat, descending onto a trampoline, her hands held aloft to steady her balance. Another striking print of the same era is a portrait of the actress Hilde Körber, whose huge eyes peer out from this drypoint by Max Ackermann, a lesser-known contemporary of Otto Dix and George Grosz.
Views of the city by American artists are always a revelation to me - two names I had not come across before were Beatrice S. Levy and Arnold Ronnebeck. There is much to admire the former’s still, contemplative aquatint ‘City Nocturne’ and in the latter’s dynamic use of line to describe the Brooklyn Bridge and the waters of the Hudson River.
More than half a century separates these two prints by Martin Lewis and Michele Zalopany respectively. The long shadows cast by commuters on their way to and from work are no different in 1930 than their counterparts in 1997.
I first encountered the works of Kawase Hasui on a trip to Japan and couldn't resist pairing one of my favourites by him with a linocut by Australian artist Ethel Spowers who studied at the Grosvenor School in London. I was convinced we had Kawase’s print in the British Museum collection, clearly this was wishful thinking as we do not, but I do have reproduction of it on my desk at work (not quite the same thing) which I haven’t seen since March when lockdown was imposed on the UK. However, we do have an impression of the Spowers print in the museum so now at least I can place them together virtually.
Dox Thrash and Elizabeth Catlett are both artists I admire and are underrepresented in British collections. Both were skilled printmakers and pioneers of their time. Thrash subtly creates the intensity of the boy’s expression through layers of aquatint wash and Catlett’s expressive woodcut merges three faces to create one woman’s face in the center, women united as the title indicates.
For some reason, I found the remarkable prints by Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn and Mavis Pusey calling out to each other across the decades. Both women were extraordinary: Fröbe-Kapteyn in her search to illustrate concepts of theosophy and Pusey, who persevered with her artistic practice despite the fact that her work never attained the critical acclaim it deserved in her lifetime. Her print was made after witnessing the 1968 riots while she was living in Paris. Prior to her stay in Paris, Pusey had worked at the atelier of another impressive printmaker, Birgit Skiöld, whose studio, a meeting place for many printmakers, was in Charlotte Street just around the corner from the British Museum.
I am thrilled to see two prints by British artists Ian Davenport and Harland Miller at the fair. Last year I was lucky enough to see some of their prints expertly executed by the team at Thumbprint Editions in south London. Printmaking is a collaborative process between artist and printer and this chemistry can produce the most astounding and powerful results. As a curator I am always learning and forever asking the artist or printer, ‘How did you do that ?’.
I could not resist ending my selection with this typically deadpan statement from a print by the wonderful Laure Prouvost, spelling out the dreaded words a curator never wants to hear.
Jennifer Ramkalawon is the curator of Western modern and contemporary graphic art at the British Museum, Department of Prints and Drawings. Her main interests are post-war British and American artists, particularly the work of R.B. Kitaj, the ‘Young British Artists' of the 1990s and late nineteenth and twentieth-century art and culture. She has organised many exhibitions of works on paper on a range of subjects from David Hockney, Frank Auerbach, Maggi Hambling and Kitaj to French Symbolist and Impressionist prints. She is the author of Kitaj Prints: A Catalogue Raisonné (2013) and Maggi Hambling: Touch, works on paper (2016).