From Nov. 4 to Nov. 7, the Seventh Regiment Armory in New York City was a print collector's paradise, as the International Fine Print Dealers Association presented its ninth annual Print Fair. As it happened, the New York City Marathon was held the same weekend. While runners from around the world wended their way through the streets of the five boroughs, print aficionados made their way from booth to booth at the fair.
Eighty-eight dealers from Europe and America offered a stunning array of prints from the rarest Old Masters to the newest contemporary works. Old Masters were in abundance, and could be seen either on the wall or held in one's hands, always the preferred method. Among the more fascinating early prints were at the Olimpia Theodoli booth, a set of seven Italian etchings of tourist views of the basilicas of Rome, executed ca. 1575-1600. Bird's-eye views, these prints offer direct and effective remembrances of the pilgrims' visit to the monuments.
An unusually large number of chiaroscuro woodcuts were hanging -- at least 12 by my count. Chief among them were two buttery pieces by Ugo da Carpi, after Parmigianino, The Presentation in the Temple and his most celebrated The Philosopher Diogenes at Theodoli.
Also notable were Ludolph Büsinck's St. Matthew and St. John at James Bergquist and Antonio da Trento's The Emperor Augustus and the Tibertine Sybil at the booth of William Schab. At August Laube's booth, a conventional woodcut on blue paper by Hendrick Glotzius shows a farm nestled in a landscape, with a defecating dog in the foreground. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Rembrandt was perhaps the single most popular Old Master, and a walk around the fair offered an instructive survey of his printed work. There was a fine, rich impression of Christ Crucified Between Two Thieves at David Tunick. A print of The Artist Drawing from the Model at Pace, in which the sketched-in outlines of the artist and model contrast so effectively with the densely worked background, looked particularly Picassoid. Rembrandt landscapes were available at Pia Gallo, Pace and C&J Goodfriend. Impressions of his portrait of Jan Lutma were at the booths of Frederick Mulder and Goodfriend, and his etched portrait of Ephraim Bonus, Jewish Physician was at Laube.
The number and quality of the German Expressionist prints in all media were breathtaking, and many rare and unusual pieces were available. August Macke is thought to have made only three prints, each in a very small edition, so the bluish-black linocut, In the Zoo, was a special treat to see at Jörg Maass. Franz Marc made more prints than Macke, although his works seem just as scarce, so it was a pleasure that four woodcuts from 1912 and 1914 were on the walls at the fair. The Shepherd and The Drinking Horse were at Maass, The Reconcilliation and The Story of Creation I were at Worthington Gallery. Important and rare portraits by more prolific printmakers included the lithograph Self Portrait with Nude Woman by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner at Maass and Emil Nolde's woodcut Dr. Sauerlandt at Worthington.
In a funny way, the fair demonstrated that we don't live in a vacuum. There seemed to be a greater number of pieces by contemporary British artists than in the past, perhaps riding the wave of recent publicity attending to the "Sensation" generation. Illustrated books by Patrick Caulfield, David Hockney and Howard Hodgkin were featured at Sims Reed, while Alan Cristea showed new editions by Gillian Ayres, Caulfield, Richard Hamilton, Ian MacKeever, and Julien Opie. For the first time in a while, citizens of the metropolis are aware of new things going on in other places.
In general, new editions were creative and asserted a dominating physicality, such as Caulfield's The Demoiselles Seen from Behind (Cristea), nearly as big as Picasso's painting itself, or Chuck Close's outsized silkscreen Self Portrait (Pace).
A number of artists and shops worked to challenge the notion that prints are just ink on flat paper. Louise Bourgeois fabricated a series of crochet prints at Mixografia, in which thick red yarn is formed into intricate patterns against a white background. At Graphicstudio, Lesley Dill made gold collage prints and Richard Tuttle combined a solid bronze floor piece with unique silkscreened folded canvases tacked unframed to the wall. Charles Young exhibited a ten-panel, unique drypoint by Yizhak Elyashiv, a wall-covering print that, too, is tacked unprotected to the wall. At Tandem, Judy Pfaff made a number of door-sized etchings in which the artist-designed frames, elaborately incised and metal-leafed, are an integral part of the work.
In all categories and ranges, sales were brisk and prices strong. Consistently across the floor, dealers remarked on the large number of sales they were writing up and how this was the best that they had done in recent memory. The success was fueled in part by a growing number of new collectors asserting themselves in a big way for the first time.
After some time of hand-wringing and worrying about the health of the print market, the fair demonstrated that it is in fact alive and well. Important old work and innovative new work appeared on the walls, and the art collecting public readily embraced it all.
JOSEPH RUZICKA is a New York-based writer and curator.