The Halloween print auctions at Christie’s and Sotheby’s in New York were fairly lackluster, with the seasonable exception of the extraordinary Edvard Munch Vampire prints that were the top sellers at both houses. Sotheby’s hand-colored example fetched $1,202,500, and Christie’s gorgeous Vampire II brought $662,500, from an online bidder, no less.
And despite the spooky economy, sell-through rates at both houses were respectable: Sotheby’s sold almost 89 percent of the 385 lots for a total of $11.7 million, while Christie’s sold 79 percent of 454 lots for $8.9 million.
Meanwhile, the IFPDA Print Fair at the Park Avenue Armory, Nov. 4-7, 2010, is what really defines "print week" in New York. Curiously, many of the star attractions are unique works, rather than editioned artworks.
A case in point is the enormous new Mel Bochner monotype Head Honcho that greets visitors in the IFPDA booth of Two Palms Press. Measuring 94 x 67 in., it sold immediately for $45,000. The new Cecily Brown monotypes are $22,000 each, prompting memories of several years ago, when examples from an earlier suite of large and colorful monotypes could be had for a bargain $7,000.
Showing for the first time at the IFPDA fair is Cincinnati art dealer Carl Solway, who went into his archives to pull out some early gems that still look fresh. Ben Patterson’s 3D portfolios done in 1996 ($6,000 each) offer a visual history of art from a Fluxus point of view with typical Patterson collaged jokes, including toilet paper and wind-up toys. Michael Solway, who, after 12 years has closed his Los Angeles Gallery, is on hand to help his dad.
Ambitious new editions by sculptors offered a big "wow" factor both in scale and visual punch. At Marlborough Graphics, director Kim Schmidt is showing off a spectacular new Manolo Valdés etching on four sheets. In an edition of 15, the release price is $26,000. By the way, here’s a clue for the IFPDA "treasure hunt" benefiting breast cancer research: When they ask what artist is making his "Broadway debut," remember the installation of some 25 Valdés sculptures up and down the Great White Way.
Julie Mehretu is one of the stars of the Gemini G.E.L. at Joni Moisant Weyl booth, with her enormous (87 x 180 in.), 12-panel etching Auguries. The edition of 24 is already sold out at a price, according to some dealers, of around $60,000. Ann Hamilton’s new sculptural print Ciliary, an eyelike meditation on the human eye, is handsome at $18,000.
One of the most exciting works at the fair is the new Jane Hammond print featured in the booth of Jim Kempner Fine Art. In reality a 3D paper pulp construction, Natural Curiosities sold immediately for $22,000. The artist made prints of snake skins and then hand-painted them, and shaped paper pulp into 3D turtle backs and other reptilian parts. The print is done in an edition of 10, and Kempner has only one more available.
At London dealer Alan Cristea’s booth, Christiane Baumgartner provides another show-stopper with her new 57 x 73 in. woodcut Manhattan Transfer. Baumgartner took photos at the helicopter pad on the West Side highway and transferred the image to a sheet of wood. Then she hand-carved the enormous woodcut by lying on her stomach and hand-printed the work using on her own special KOZO paper. Done in an edition of six, it’s $19,500 framed.
Among the more exciting modern offerings are the rare Max Pechstein prints and Max Beckmann watercolors at Jörg Maas Kunsthandel from Berlin. The early 1901 Pechstein lithograph from his Paris years, showing the Fauvist influence, of which there are only a few known copies, sold for just over $100,000 on opening night. A rare Beckman watercolor, of which there are only 100 in the world, is one of the most expensive works in the fair, offered at $2.5 million.
Among the Old Master print dealers, Kunsthandlung Helmut Rumbler from Frankfurt/Main has a lifetime working proof of a Goya print from the "Tauromachia" portfolio that was never used during the artist’s lifetime. Priced at $250,000, it is reserved for an institution. A later impression is also on view in the booth and it is fascinating to compare the two states.
DEBORAH RIPLEY is a senior print specialist at Artnet.