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by Walter Robinson
Champagne was flowing at the gala preview of the 16th edition of the International Fine Print Dealers Association (IFPDA) Annual Print Fair, Nov. 2-5, 2006, at the Seventh Regiment Armory on Park Avenue and 67th Street, where 91 top dealers do an estimated $15 million in business during the fair’s five-day run. About one-third of the exhibitors are contemporary, one-third 20th-century and one-third Old Master and 18th- and 19th-century.

Prints are not my specialty, so I enlisted the help of Deborah Ripley, an expert. "You do the talking, I’ll take notes," I said. We walked in the door, and at the entrance was a benefit print by the immensely popular British artist Julian Opie, who works with Alan Cristea Gallery on Cork Street in London.

The print is a lovely portrait of a clear-eyed girl with a flower in her hair, posed against a deep blue background. Priced at $1,500, it was published in an edition of 100, and sold out before the end of the gala preview, which benefited the Museum of Modern Art.

A nice donation by Opie. Commendations.

"Hang on a second, I have to talk to somebody," said Ripley, who disappeared for the next 45 minutes. The hors d’oeuvres included tiny chicken-and-jam biscuit sandwiches and a weird mini-open-club-sandwich made with black bread, lox and some kind of salmon spread (I could be wrong on that one). Also, breaded sticks of Portobello mushroom with dipping sauce. Later there were chocolate truffles, some filled with peanut butter and jelly. Hmmm.

"What do you want to see," asked IFPDA executive director Michele Senecal, who appeared out of nowhere to take me firmly in hand. "Marlborough has a Jasper Johns ‘Flag’ print, there’s a Richard Diebenkorn woodcut at Susan Sheehan, and there are a lot of new editions this year," she said.

Indeed, the booth of Gemini G.E.L. at Joni Moisant Weyl had large colorful prints from 2006 by John Baldessari, Jon Borofsky and Bruce Nauman, and large black-and-white prints by Richard Serra. For instance, a 20 x 28 inch gold-toned photo of Nauman pushing his lips into a goofy grimace with his index fingers -- a previously rejected image from his famous 1968 Body Art series, issued now as a print for the first time -- is $5,500, in an edition of 60.

Cockeye Lips from Infrared Outtakes, as it is called, may be an old image but it’s a new process -- something called an Epson UntraChrome K3 Inkjet Print. Is that like a Xerox? No, it’s very archival. Four from the series are on view at the booth, and they have a post-Minimalist nihilism that is undeniably appealing. And the colors, gold and gray, are oddly beautiful.

The IFPDA fair is an exceptionally convenient way to see a lot of print galleries in one place, especially dealers like G.W. Einstein & Co. of New York, which is ordinarily open by appointment only. Einstein specializes in U.S. postwar master artists. "We’re mostly secondary market," said Gilbert W. Einstein. "We work with estates, buy odd things -- dealing with the same stuff all the time is too boring!"

The search for unusual works had filled the Einstein booth with a selection of monotypes, like a Harry Bertoia untitled ca. 1950 print on rice paper of biomorphic shapes, an image that hovers delectably on the threshold between heroic modernism and mid-20th-century decorative élan, a bargain at $5,000.

The Bertoia is hung next to an atypical abstraction by Lynda Benglis from 1989, a vertical work that breaks up the picture space Cubist style with snaking transparent shapes that seem almost Lee Krasner-like. Another monoprint, its price is $4,500.  

Worthington Gallery of Chicago is one of several galleries (also including St. Etienne and Alice Adam) who specialize in German Expressionism. The great artist Max Beckmann made a lot of prints, and his works can still be had relatively cheaply. Worthington had a copy of the Deaf-Mute litho from 1921, signed and numbered in an edition of 100, for $2,900.

Why is Beckmann so cheap, we asked. "I have Chicago prices," Worthington exclaimed.

The print is a perfect Weimar-era Expressionist scene: a woman in her underwear perches on the lap of a man, whose hand caresses her bare breasts, while the artist is visible in a mirror on the wall. A cat is also in the picture. "There’s always a cat," exclaimed Eva-Marie Worthington, who opened her gallery in Chicago 37 years ago.

Who is the "deaf-mute" of the title, the man or the girl? He looks more like a blind man, I said, referring to his groping hands. "He must be a doctor," said Worthington, "conducting his examination!"

In search of Old Masters, I turned to August Laube Buch- und Kunstantiquariat from Zürich, where Brigitta Laube was kind enough to field my foolish questions. If I were a beginning collector without much money, what could you show me, I asked.

Laube had on a small easel a very fine aquatint by Francesco Goya, showing three noisy Hobgoblins carrying on in an attic -- it’s the Duendecitos, plate 49 from "Los Caprichos," made in 1799. The price is $4,300.

But what if I were a representative of a wealthy collector, who wanted only the best? Then Laube could offer a complete set of all 12 of Albrecht Dürer’s The Great Passion, a series of 12 oversized woodcuts made 1496-1510 and never broken up. The set is priced at $120,000 -- what a prize.

After wandering off on my own, my eye was caught by a 1972 lithograph by Man Ray, clearly a commercial edition -- made when the famed Dada pioneer was 82! -- of his famous 1916 The Rope Dancer Accompanies Herself with Her Shadows. In great shape, signed and numbered by the artist -- 61/99 -- the work is a steal at $1,600 at Galerie Grillon on the Rue de Seine in Paris.

"I like those kinds of things, even if they’re late," said Ripley, once she had reappeared. "Buy it!"

But Ripley had other things in mind. "There’s an incredible Jean-Michel Basquiat monotype, one of only two he ever made," she said, sotto voce, though I didn’t see anyone listening in. We rushed to the booth of Ian McKenzie Fine Art of Old Bond Street, London, and there it was. Made in Dallas in 1985, the print shows a black, angry creature with four legs and the striated torso of a wasp. It hints of the dark times to come for the artist, who died of a drug overdose in 1988. The price: $230,000.

The mood was a bit lighter over at Arion Press from San Francisco, where master printer Andrew Hoyem was showing a new book titled, Godot, an Imaginary Staging by William T. Wiley of "Waiting for Godot" (2006). Hoyem himself had written a synopsis of the play, which accompanies Wiley’s illustrations, a set of 52 relief prints with blue and yellow additions.

The book is luxurious, to say the least, printed by letterpress with handset type in an edition of 300. "Hoyem’s mad," said Ripley. "He has a foundry and makes his own type!" The book, which measures 10 x 15 inches and is signed by Wiley, is $800.

Back in the aisles, we passed Barry Walker, a former curator at the Brooklyn Museum who is now curator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. What’s the verdict? "The fair is always fantastic," he said, with Texas optimism. "It gets better every year."

WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine. He can be reached at Send Email