My Highlights from the IFPDA Print Fair 2014
I never miss the IFPDA Print Fair because it offers such a diverse selection of prints to see all in one location. There are works by artists from all over the world, from North America and Europe to South Asia and Africa, that date from 15th century to present, and are executed in every type of medium—engraving, etching, woodcut, lithography, digital—you name it. And since, like many large museums, we collect in all of these areas, I like to try to get to every booth, at least for an overview, to see what might grab me. I am always looking for outstanding impressions of great prints that we have been looking to add to the collection to fill gaps, for new work by an artist I have been following or for intriguing work by an artist I never heard of, and in the print publishers/workshops booths I have the chance to learn about their latest projects. I always learn something new.
One of the best aspects of the fair is that there are often opportunities to compare impressions of a particular print because more than one dealer may have the same print on offer, and this gives you a chance to hone your connoisseurship skills by comparing examples. I also find the fair to great way to get a sense of the market, to learn what artists’ prints are currently selling for among different dealers in comparison to auction prices. The broad range of price points represented at the fair due to the wide-ranging inventory of works offered for sale is extremely helpful in working with collectors and funds with varying financial limitations. My selection of works below are just the tip of the iceberg of wonderful works at the fair, and reflect my particular interests in inventive use of media, fine draftsmanship (i.e. skillful manipulation of line, not exclusive to drawing media), and clever use of humor, and include some of my favorite works by particular artists.
One of the great images of the Machine Age, this print by Christopher R.W. Nevinson is among a number of prints by British artists working in the early 20th century (including Paul Nash and Edward Wadsworth) whose work is showing up in larger numbers this year—undoubtedly spurred by commemorations of the 100th anniversary of WWI, which is encouraging everyone to look at this period anew.
British artist Grayson Perry is a great chronicler of contemporary life, slyly commenting on societal injustices and hypocrisies, and drawing on historical as well as current themes in his printed and ceramic work. His often witty imagery combines undercurrents of nostalgia, fear, and frustration. Among the issues Perry addresses are cultural hierarchies, such as the status of artist versus the artisan referenced in this playfully titled print.
Ann Hamilton, an internationally renowned contemporary artist based in Columbus, Ohio, is known for her videos, performance work, and multi-media installation pieces. She has had a long association with the publisher Gemini G.E.L., and in 2009 she created a series of six prints titled visite, including this print. The title refers to the source of the photographs, which were 19th century cartes de visite that the artist discovered while working on a collaborative project with Mass MoCA and the Historic New England archive. Hamilton used a video camera to scan the cartes de visite, tilting the camera during the shot to torque the images, further enhancing the mystery surrounding the identity of the sitter.
One of the most attractive characteristics of prints is their often intimate scale, which is what draws me to this work. The intimacy is underscored here by the close cropping of the figure who seemingly extends into the viewer’s space. A rare etching by Charles White, Abide, shows the artist’s innate ability to portray his sitters with great empathy and specificity. I particularly love the way the figure emerges from the dense network of lines in the shadowed area at left, so you can almost participate in the artist’s formation of the figure through his mark making process. Charles White is one of the most highly regarded African American artists of his generation, known for his powerful portrayals of the human figure, particularly his drawings which, in contrast to this etching, are often executed on a very large scale.
Drawing on Surrealist, Abstract Expressionist, and Feminist approaches, the sculptor and printmaker Louise Bourgeois developed a highly personalized iconography. Her art served as a catharsis of her troubled childhood that had been shaped by a dominant, difficult father and a nurturing, long-suffering mother. Bourgeois continually explored themes of loneliness, jealousy, conflict, vulnerability, and fear. This complete suite of nine etchings, “Ode à ma mère,” does not often come up for sale, and they are among her best prints. Some of her most monumental sculptures also feature spider forms.
It is rare to see good impressions of 15th-century prints on the market, and this print, attributed to Mantegna, is the primary version of the subject. There are two copies in which three birds appear in the sky instead of four (among others slight differences) that have been attributed to Giovanni Antonio da Brescia and the Master of 1515 respectively.
Among my favorite prints by Rembrandt in which he shows off his extraordinary ability to portray the effects of light on form, is this image of St. Jerome. In the best impressions, the artist carefully inked and wiped the plate to capture the soft illumination of the saint and the book before him by the light coming through the window. It is a marvelous portrayal of the realities of life before electricity as well as the contemplative atmosphere of the scholar’s study.
The highly skilled woodcutter, Jay Bolotin, is one among a number of contemporary artists whose printmaking is integral to their work in other media. The theatrical qualities of Bolotin’s printed imagery reflects his multi-layered performance-based work which includes plays, operas, music, and film, in which his printed work is often physically incorporated. He is also notable for drawing from both old master and popular culture sources (such as comics and graphic novels) as well as for his inventive integration of image and text. I find his visual storytelling most compelling and his printed images engaging and dynamic—the more you look the more you see.
The German romantic printmaker Carl Kolbe excelled in his description of varying textures and types of vegetation, abundantly evident here—it earned him the nickname “Cabbage Kolbe.” I particularly enjoy occasional examples like this one where his abundant foliage appears in out-sized scale, lending a fairy-tale like unreality to his otherwise fastidiously naturalistic image.
I know this isn’t a print, and dealers sometimes cheat at the Print Fair, slipping in a few other types of works on paper, but I couldn’t resist this one. Paul Cadmus (1904-1999) is known for the homoerotic undercurrents in his portrayals of sailors, beach scenes, and city life (see the YMCA Locker Room at Conrad Graeber or Horse Play at Keith Sheridan), but above all he was a master draftsman of the male form. His skill is evident in the remarkable rendering of the undulations of muscular structure and flesh of the dramatically foreshortened nude seen here. The awkward and atypical pose is also striking—the bold foreshortening of the figure brings to mind Renaissance examples, such as Mantegna’s Dead Christ, of which the classically-minded Cadmus would undoubtedly have been aware.
Polly Apfelbaum’s recent prints continue to probe the inventive possibilities of woodcut. She is known for using multi-part blocks, often jig-sawed, shaped pieces (flower forms, zig zags, diamonds, etc.), which she may manipulate in free form compositions, or interlock like a puzzle. Sometimes she varies ink colors in different printings to produce unique works, while she will direct a specific color scheme to be used for editioned ones. In the case of Baroque Time Machine 4, she used long planks of wood, which were “rainbow-rolled” with multiple color inks, and then placed side by side on the press bed and printed. The subtle modulations within the bold stripes of color have an amazing effect, as if light is emanating from the surface, creating a sense of oscillation in space even though the work is physically flat/two-dimensional. The large scale of this unique print (each impression is inked differently) further enhances the spatial effect.