This year, 90 international print dealers fill the Park Avenue Armory for the IFPDA Print Fair [through Nov. 6] with thousands of prints from Old Master to Contemporary. I spent the day on Thursday, Nov. 3, working though the aisles and found myself drawn to the remarkable objects below. The potential inclusions for my top 10 prints were endless.
This very personal list is neither ranked nor in historical chronologic order. It follows my path as I entered the Armory’s main hall, turned right and left down Aisle A.
1. A 14 Paul Prouté S.A.
The first stop on our top 10 tour incidentally features the oldest print: Israhel van Meckenem’s engraving from the end of the 15th Century entitled Saint James the Greater, transported from Paris by Prouté. Identified by his pilgrim’s staff and scallop shells on his hat and in his hand, Saint James looks like a medieval sculpture that has come to life and decided to stride out of his niche. Van Meckenem’s engraving has the liveliness and suppleness of a quill pen drawing brought to life.
2. B 14 Emanuel Von Baeyer
Continue down Aisle A and turn left at the end. Take another left into Aisle B and look for the booth of London dealer Emanuel von Baeyer. The treasure everyone has been talking about this year is not a print but a drawn self-portrait by one of the all-time greatest printmakers, Hendrick Goltzius. This tiny roundel on vellum is rendered in a complex combination of metal point, black and red chalk and watercolor with white heightening. It is one of only seven known drawn self-portraits by Goltzius and is thought to be the study for the image of the artist that appears in his 1594 engraving of the Circumcision of Christ. The drawing shows a confident artist at the height of his powers with a sweet expression in his light blue eyes. Von Baeyer’s ensemble includes a remarkable woodcut after Coornhert with an unusual subject, Tobias being Blinded by Sparrows Droppings (c. 1550), as well as post-war prints by Georg Baselitz and Robert Morris.
3. B12 Jan Johnson Old Master and Modern Prints, Inc.
Canadian dealer Jan Johnson always has surprising material. This year, she has several portfolios with print series that were used in a celebrated extra-illustrated Bible assembled by the Rothschild family in the 19th century. Characteristic of this group are the six images Sinners of the Old and New Testament, engraved by Willem Swanenburg after Abraham Bloemaert, 1609–11. The rich, crisp impressions highlight Swanenburg’s swelling lines and virtuosity in recreating the vigorous forms of Bloemaert.
4. B2 C. G. Boerner
Almost at the end of Aisle B on the left you’ll find the booth of the New York and Düsseldorf galleries C. G. Boerner, known for superb Old Master prints, especially by Dürer and Rembrandt. In addition to these treasures, they have brought a selection of prints by the French Mannerist Jacques Bellange. To my eye, the star of the show is a late etching, The Raising of Lazarus. The powerful head of Christ, rendered with lines and dots, creates a glowing focal point around which nearly three-dozen figures writhe with exaggerated gestures of disgust and wonder at the sight and smell of Lazarus emerging from his grave. Meanwhile, small characters in the upper zone promenade with courtly grace, the two zones linked by a gesturing nude male who may or may not be John the Baptist. The dense etched work is supple and nuanced even in the darkest areas. The overall sense of light and atmosphere is magnificent in this large print.
5. C3 Susan Teller Gallery
New York dealer Susan Teller has mounted a focused show based on two 1951 prints by the great satirist Peggy Bacon. Both entitled All Alone, they show individuals seated by themselves at tables in a cafeteria while workers talk behind the counter and a female custodian mops the floor. The diners embody various degrees of loneliness but the stout woman in a hat at the clutches her cup of coffee and stares ahead.
The upper print in Teller’s hanging is a drypoint with a broad view of the scene: our protagonist is in the middle distance holding her ground amid the other lone diners. In the closely related lithograph, the main character has been even more profoundly isolated by her placement in the extreme foreground where she valiantly tries to ignore the woman who furiously swabs the floor by her feet. Bacon’s satire is poignant and effective and witty.
Teller displays Bacon alongside related prints by her New York peers in social satire during the 40s and 50s: Isabel Bishop, Reginald Marsh, Marguerite Zorach, and early work by Minna Citron.
6. C9 Paulson Bott Press
Among the many outstanding new print editions at the fair, Tauba Auerbach’s aquatint etchings published by Paulson Bott in 2011 are extraordinary. Auerbach invents a variation on her signature folding techniques to create virtuoso color aquatints Fold/Slice Topo I and II.
She more directly entered the process of etching in her Plate Distortion I and II. From what I understand, thin copper plates were coated with aquatint grounds then bent, twisted and folded by the artists before being placed into the acid. The sculptural manipulation of the plates, flattened and printed, results in an uncanny quality of relief, especially the version printed in silver ink. While at Paulson Bott ask to see Auerbach’s fascinating popup books, published by Printed Matter.
7. D12 Daniela Laube Fine Art
Amid the brilliant violets, blues, reds and blacks of a pristine pochoir from Matisse’s 1947 portfolio Jazz and a high key, luminous impression of Redon’s 1890 lithograph Yeux Clos, Daniela Laube displays a large woodcut by Giuseppe Scolari (c. 1575). Requiring two blocks because of its size, the subject of Scolari’s print is The Entombment of Christ, based on a design by Titian. The technique of incising white lines on the dark ground of his woodcuts was radical for the 16th Century and unique until wood engravers of the 19th Century used the strategy for relief prints. The freedom of his carving creates forceful shapes and patterns articulating Titian’s foreshortenings with incredible vigor while conveying the nobility and pathos of Titian’s expressive gestures. Scolari was known to revise large sections of his woodcuts by cutting out areas and inserting plugs to be carved with new configurations. The Entombment was subject to such radical changes. The seams are not visible in this splendid impression but the vitality of a process that allowed for both subtractive and additive work is evident in this image.
8. D19 R. S. Johnson Fine Art
From Chicago the Johnsons brought two superb collections to the fair: a large group of works by Mary Cassatt that includes many etchings showing her at her most experimental, and a group of French prints from the 18th Century.
Most delectable from the latter group is Nicolas De Launay’s 1782 interpretive engraving with etching of Fragonard’s painting Les Hasards Heureux de l’Escarpolette, know in English as The Swing. This celebrated image shows an elaborately dressed young woman on a swing guided by ropes controlled by an elderly gentleman in the left background. The punchline of the scene is the young man lying in the right foreground poised to look between the woman’s legs as she kicks off her shoe. From the expression of his face, it seems to have been worth the effort. For the viewer the rewards come in close examination of the foliage that dominates the compositions. This early state clearly reveals that the soft effect is entirely created by an elaborate network of etched and engraved lines.
9. D2 James A. Bergquist
One of the great pleasures of the IFPDA Fair is the opportunity to see prints so unusual that they might never again appear in public. Jim Bergquist affords such an experience with Delacroix’s 1833 aquatint etching, Un Forgeron. The alluring blacksmith with his open shirt is a worthy creation of the artist, who had recently invented the type for Mephistopheles in his illustrations to Goethe’s Faust. The granular aquatint ground is reminiscent of the spirit grounds later used by Degas. Delacroix created the image entirely by stopping out, first covering the highlights with an acid resisting material and painting over the subsequent tones as he performed the stage biting. There are no outlines to structure the image and some of the tonal transitions are miraculously smooth while in other areas the shapes are clearly cut. This impression of the first state with Delacroix’s aquatint tonal tests in the borders before they were erased may be unique. It is a treat to see this powerful image in such a perfect, brilliant impression.
10. C1 Mary Ryan Gallery
We finish the tour at Mary Ryan Gallery’s booth, which has David Hockney’s 1973 set of six lithographs with screenprinting, “Weather,” featured on the center wall. I’d never seen the entire set together and was astonished to observe the range of coloristic, compositional and stylistic solutions Hockney brought to his images of lightning, sun, rain, mist, wind and snow. From the near monochrome of lightning to the brilliant colors that cause the houseplant to lean toward the sun and the delicate tones of mist and snow, the fecundity of Hockney’s visual invention is evident.
According to Sidney Felsen, director of legendary Los Angeles printshop Gemini, Hockney came to the city because of the sunshine. By the time he created this series he missed the change of seasons enough to create his own weather through these prints.