The International Fine Print Dealers Associations 14th annual Print Fair, Nov. 4-7, 2004, opened at the Seventh Regiment Armory on Park Avenue in Manhattan on the day after the presidential election, and the mood was rather subdued as print dealers and collectors discussed what the continuing Republican regime might mean to the print world. Pace Editions director Sasha Schwartz claimed to have spotted "Bush supporters, even at the print fair." And Manhattan dealer David Tunick, referring to his inventory of Old Master prints, noted, "I have always had collectors for the Old Testament. Perhaps now I can sell some New Testament material to all these evangelicals."
Tunick also appealed to those of a more secular bent with Pieter Breugels The Rabbit Hunters (ca. 1560). The beautifully wiped etching is apparently the only print ever done by the artist himself, although myriad engravings by other printers were made after Breugels drawings (all of which were featured in a comprehensive exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum last year). Tunick felt that his Rabbit compared favorably with the Mets impression, contending that the price -- $400,000 -- is right, especially considering that the etching is one of only two known impressions to come on the market in the last 25 years.
The Swiss dealer Auguste Laube was showing a gorgeous impression of Rembrandt van Rijns Landscape with Trees, Farm Buildings and Tower (ca. 1650), which is notable for its atmospheric inking of the sky. The rare print is only known in three impressions; Laube sold the work after the fair for around $300,000 to an American collector who had seen it in the booth.Brigitta Laube commented that the unusually high number of important Old Master offerings at the fair was indicative of a "generational turnover" of Old Master collectors who, as a group, are generally older than buyers of contemporary prints.
Modern standouts included proofs of Joan Mirós first prints, Enfances (1933), shown by the British bookshop and gallery Sims Reed. The delicate etchings feature the biomorphic figures that are characteristic of the artists early work, and each bears a dedication from Miró to his famous intaglio printer, Roger Lacourier. Sims Reed was offering the suite of three prints for $53,000.
At the opening benefit party, curators were snapping up hard-to-find items for their collections. Roberta Waddell, keeper of prints at the New York Public Library, was delighted to acquire a rare 1950s woodcut by Eva Hesse from Diane VillaniEditions, and Hill-Stone Gallery reported that a European museum had purchased a brilliant impression of an engraving by Philips Galle (1537-1612) after Primaticcio entitled Odysseus Carried to Ithaka by the Phaeacians for $8,500.
Chelsea print dealer Jim Kempner reported that a museum was interested in Untitled (Kidneys) by Kiki Smith, a 1995 potato print with silver additions that is priced at $3,500. The only other impression seen in recent memory was featured in the 2003 retrospective of the artist at the Museum of Modern Art. And Mary Ryan Gallery was pleased to sell a large Joan Mitchell lithograph from 1992, Trees, measuring 54 x 82 in. The price: $10,000.
Barry Walker, who formerly was curator of prints at the Brooklyn Museum and is now curator of 20th century art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, said he was put off by the exorbitant prices of many masterworks, and has decided to search out what he considers bargains in works by new artists or those slightly off the beaten path. One relative newcomer is Michael Craig-Martin, the mid-career London-based artist who has served as artist-trustee for the Tate and taught many of the YBA generation at Goldsmiths College in London. His 12-panel color screenprint, entitled Folio (2004), and measuring 58 x 79 in., is published by Londons Alan Cristea Gallery. The prints are modestly priced at $11,000, considering that the artist had had a one-person show at Gagosian Gallery last spring.
Although Ellsworth Kelly is not exactly off the beaten path, his prints of elegantly drawn plants and flowers have taken a while to catch on with collectors, who are more familiar with his colorful Minimalist shapes. Print publisher Joni Weyl said that GeminiG.E.L. had been asking Kelly since 1995 to complete two unfinished prints of sunflowers. "This year," she said, "he not only completed the plates, he gave us an entire new group of vegetation prints." She thinks that the difference between these and the earlier ones is evident in Kellys line, which "is more active in these new prints." They measure 37 x 29 in., in an edition of 50, and the opening price is $5,500 each.
At the downtown Editions and Artists Book Fair, Nov. 4-7, 2004, an impressive gathering of 40 publishers from the U.S. and Europe put out their wares on tables in the more informal setting of the Starrett-Lehigh Building on West 26th Street in Chelsea. Among the highlights were a small jewel of an etching by Elizabeth Murray published by ULAE, and a somber book of black-and-white photographs, splattered with lead and ash and presented in a metal case, by Anselm Kiefer at the booth of French dealer Yvon Lambert. Entitled The Unborn, the 2002 multiple is Kiefers only editioned work, and was offered at $6,000. The few copies available sold right away.
Two Palms Press in SoHo was finding buyers ready for its big Cecily Brown monotypes of landscapes, offered framed for $6,500 each, as well as small ones of disembodied, snaggle-toothed mouths, priced at $2,000 each. Carolina Nitsch had lovely monotypes by Louise Bourgeois, hand-colored with gouache, which were selling for $30,000 each. "These should be considered drawings, rather than prints," Nitsch said.
Baron Boisanté Editions featured a large red and yellow aquatint by Donald Baechler entitled Coral (2004) that is something of a departure from his earlier figurative work. But the real show-stopper at the booth of the Manhattan publisher was a new edition by the Swiss artist Not Vital -- a piece of bronzed cow dung, personally gathered by the artist during the summer, according to Mark Baron, "when they are nice and hard." Issued in an edition of 1,000, the work is dedicated to raising funds for a pediatric burn unit in Katmandu that is one of Not Vitals pet projects. The price varies according to size: $1,000 for the smallest and $3,300 for the biggest piece of dung.
DEBORAH RIPLEY is a New York art dealer who writes on art.