This week, print collectors have enjoyed an orgy of offerings in New York, from the print auctions at Christie’s and Sotheby’s that began the week to the two premier print fairs that run through the weekend, the International Fine Print Dealer’s Association (IFPDA) fair at the Park Avenue Armory and the Editions/Artists’ Books (EAB) fair at the Starrett Lehigh Building in Chelsea.
Auction prices continue to be robust, with Picasso leading the pack. At Sotheby’s, a beautiful impression of his colorful linocut, Buste de Femme au Chapeau (1962) -- nicknamed the "Red Bitch" by the trade -- fetched $273,600, well above its $120,000-$160,000 presale estimate. This price is right in line with the $264,000 paid at Christie’s in 1989, during the last market peak (the print had been selling for around $90,000-$100,000 ever since then). British print dealers William Weston and Ian MacKenzie both remarked that this impression’s red hadn’t faded, which is common with the print.
Dealers at the IFPDA fair raised their prices accordingly. Chicago dealer Stanley Johnson priced his Picasso linocut Bacchanale a l'acrobate at $75,000. "This is just one bid higher than what the print fetched at auction, and my Bacanale is better," he claimed. On the contemporary side, New York dealer Jim Kempner found a buyer for Dienbenkorn’s 1984 lithograph Twelve, which he sold for $85,000 while he was setting up his booth. "Since Dienbekorn’s etching Green from 1986 sold yesterday at Christie’s for $240,000, way above its estimate of $100,000-$150,000, I had no trouble selling this print," he enthused.
The IFPDA fare boasts several rare prints that are certainly attractive to museums. Chicago German Expressionist print dealer Alice Adam was showing the Kirchner woodcut Akrobatische Tanzerinnen (Acrobat Dance), hand-printed by the artist in 1911. "This was made at the height of the Berlin period, and you can see the wonderful energy and angularity that typifies the Expressionist movement," she noted. Price: $75,000.
The paucity of good Edvard Munch prints at auction may have accounted for the quick sale of New York dealer David Tunick’s extremely rare transfer lithograph, Salome Paraphrase (1894-98), for $125,000 to an older couple doing some impulse shopping. A typical upbeat subject for Munch, it depicts the artist’s decapitated head floating in a woman’s hair.
Both fairs have fine contemporary offerings. On the occasion of the IFPDA fair, artist Kiki Smith made a benefit print for the Museum of Modern Art, featuring one of her familiar bird images, and it was sold out before the fair opened. The gala benefit was well attended and MoMA’s chief curator of prints, Deborah Wye, was on hand to welcome collectors to the fair.
Pace had a spellbinding new Francesco Clemente print, titled Earth (2005), printed by the Ukiyo-e wizard Yasuyuki Shibata. Earth is priced at $4,000 and sure to be a hit. Shibata’s new 16-color Helen Frankenthaler Japanese Maple is a masterpiece, but dealers complained about the $25,000 price tag. Jeremy Dine (artist Jim Dine’s son), who is working for Pace, proclaimed that the print was well worth it.
Artist James Siena, whose show of new gouaches and paintings opens at PaceWildenstein in Chelsea later this month, had prints in different mediums all over both fairs. At Pace he worked with Shibata to create two new woodcuts. One of them, Recursive Lighthouse Variation, in an edition of 50, was selling briskly at $2,000. At the downtown EAB fair, U.L.A.E. (Universal Limited Art Editions, Inc.) was offering two hand-pulled stone lithographs by Siena. One lithograph by the same name, Recursive Lighthouse Variation, printed in an edition of 28, is selling for $3,500. At the next booth, New York dealer Chris Neptune has Battery Variations I, II & III, a suite three large Siena silkscreens printed by Brand X, priced at $9,600 for the set.
Elizabeth Murray’s retrospective at MoMA prompted UL.A.E. to produce a large, three-dimensional mixed-media print that depicts a joyful clutter of colorful tools, right in tune with Murray’s most recent paintings. The untitled work is $8,500. Another canvas-sized mixed-media monotype, this one by Carroll Dunham, was on view at the booth of Two Palms Press, priced at $9,500.
A few lower priced gems were also to be found. MOMA curator of prints and illustrated books Wendy Weitman loved the Raymond Pettibon prints of animals offered by Paris lithographer Patrice Forest at Item Editions for $1,200. Pettibon’s print, Don’t look back, the past may be gaining on you, shows the American Eagle receiving a death blow. Forest noted that the print’s title is taken from a quote by Negro League pitcher Satchel Paige, who claimed that the success of his 33-year pitching career lay in his policy of refusing to "look back."
Should the American polity adopt the same strategy? Pettibon seems to be saying, "At our own risk!"
DEBORAH RIPLEY is a New York art dealer who writes on art.