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Print Week 2011

by Deborah Ripley

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The uneven print auction results of the last week provided the backdrop for the International Fine Print Dealers Association Fair that opened on Nov. 2 and 3, 2011. Sotheby’s, with its day sale and a special evening vanity sale of a California collection of Pop prints, brought in a combined total of $9.4 million, with approximately 80 percent of the lots sold by value. The evening sale provided the highlight, with an Andy Warhol “Mao” portfolio in beautiful condition fetching $1,426,500, just slightly below the world record of $1,684,457 from 2007.

In its day sale, Christie’s fetched $9,231.275 with 87 percent of the lots sold by value. But they chose to save their top lot, the rare Pablo Picasso Weeping Woman (1937), in an edition of 15, estimated at $1.5 million-$2.5 million for the Tuesday night Impressionist and modern art evening sale. The gamble paid off, sort of. It fetched $5,122,500, a new world record for any print anywhere at auction, but the buyer was John Szoke, a print dealer, disproving the myth that print collectors are too stingy to compete in the art-collecting big leagues. (Szoke claims he will be keeping the work for his private collection.)

Phillips de Pury continued its strategy of evening print sales at its new 57th Street rental space, fetching an impressive $2,379,900 for a very slim catalogue of 78 lots. It's a new high for a Phillips print sale, suggesting a coming dominance in contemporary prints.

At the IFPDA fair, held at the Park Avenue Armory, an international roster of 90 dealers exhibited graphics from the 16th to the 20th century. Right at the entrance, Tandem Press provided the big “wow” with “An American Alphabet,” 26 lithographs by Robert Cottingham that took 14 years to complete due to the artist’s exacting requirements. Executive director Paula McCarthy Panczenko personally attested that the letter “Y” required 68 different runs through the press. The letters themselves are like a diary for the artist of different paintings he has created over the years. “A” is from his 1970 painting Art, inspired by the run-down movie marquee from the Art Theater in downtown Los Angeles. The price for the entire set is $78,000, but single letters are available.

Next door, Mary Ryan Gallery was showing David Hockney’s set of six prints, “The Weather Series” (1973), priced at $250,000. Rarely found as a complete set, the price seems reasonable considering that the single work Sun fetched $43,750 at Christie’s last week. Ryan also debuted a sculpture multiple Yo (2011), for $15,000, by Deborah Kass, following her 2011 print Oy/Yo, which was a riff on the Ed Ruscha multiple book Oh/No (2008).

The modern print dealer R. Stanley Johnson is offering a complete group of 44 early etchings (1878-1891) by Mary Cassatt during a period when she was sharing a printing press with Edgar Degas and Camille Pissarro. The experimental works from the 1880s, which bring to mind Degas’ atmospheric monotypes of prostitutes, are much more interesting than her later sentimental mother-child depictions. The group, which took Ursula and Stanley Johnson decades to assemble, are offered for $625,000. Hopefully an institution will acquire the group, and scholarly research will probably lead to a reassessment of Cassatt’s graphic oeuvre as a whole.

John Szoke had one of the two impressions of the important Picasso aquatint Torse de Femme (1953). (It was nicknamed the “Egyptian” because of the pharaoh-like depiction of the hair on this striking portrait of Francoise Gilot.) The print fetched $242,500 at Christie’s last week. Szoke’s impression was offered for $300,000, while British dealer Theobald Jennings had his priced at $330,000.

Two publishers had featured new portraits that were the talk of the fair. The University of South Florida Graphicstudio had a new Alex Katz woodcut, Kym, selling briskly for $7,500. Pace Prints was offering a large Chuck Close silkscreen self-portrait that was extremely well priced at $35,000 considering that the Close’s large 2007 silkscreen self-portrait fetched $75,000 when it came up for auction in September.

The booth of Gemini G.E.L. at Joni Moysant Weyl had some wonderful new Richard Tuttle prints to accompany the artist’s new clay multiples. A small collaged etching with a little drawing was entitled For John Altoon (2011), priced at $3,000. Gemini G.E.L. founder Sydney Felson explained that he was mystified as to why Tuttle dedicated the piece to Altoon, but thinks it had something to do with Tuttle’s visit to the Getty Museum for the "Pacific Standard Time" show. “He was really interested in a large 1960s painting from his Ocean Park Series, recalls Felson, even though the print was completed long before Tuttle saw the show.

Jörg Maas provided, as usual, a fantastic group of German Expressionist prints that would rival any museum show. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s lithograph on yellowish paper Tanz in der Alp… (1920) was one of seven known impressions. The richly inked print shows a moment during New Year’s Day in 1920 when visitors came to the artist’s house and joined in holiday dancing. The price is $120,000.

Visitors should dance over to the Park Avenue Armory to see this incomparable selection of works from the world’s top print dealers in this event that delights print collectors once a year.

DEBORAH RIPLEY is a senior print specialist at Artnet.