Art in multiples, back at the Armory

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Art in multiples, back at the Armory
In an image provided by David Krut Projects, New York shows, William Kentridge, 2022. “The Old Gods Have Retired.” The Print Fair returns to Park Avenue, with a critic’s advice on connoisseurship, and where the buys are. (David Krut Projects, New York via The New York Times)

by John Vincler

NEW YORK, NY.- Few art fairs feature Gerhard Richter rubbing shoulders with Titian. But the International Fine Print Dealers Association Print Fair, which opened Thursday with a preview and runs through the weekend, regularly makes neighbors of the old and the new, while providing opportunities for emerging artists and emerging collectors, with some works on offer for less than $1,000.

This year’s fair returns uptown to the Park Avenue Armory after several years at the Javits Center. And with the move comes a shift in the calendar — the previous fair was only four months ago. But collectors and curators, dealers and gallerists, fine-press publishers and artists can’t seem to get enough.

“It’s a bit of a quick turnaround,” said Jay A. Clarke, curator of Prints and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago, but the New York fair has always been a highlight, and “it’s especially exciting that it’s returning to the Armory.”

Prints are usually available in limited editions of nearly identical copies and are a fundamentally collaborative media, with artists teaming up with skilled craftspeople to complete the work. Discerning print buyers often look for editions produced during the lifetime of the artist.

The star of this fair may be the immense “The Submersion of the Pharaoh’s Army in the Red Sea” (1514-15, published in 1549), in which 16th-century Italian Renaissance artist Titian dares the humble relief print to take on the ambition and scale of painting. Its experimental character fits comfortably alongside modern and contemporary work.

Mostly consisting of sea and sky, Titian’s landscape is interrupted by the titular army at bottom left as a crowd observes from the shore in front of a bluff at right, creating a panoramic drama. The biblical tale of conflict in the Holy Land served as an allegory for political events and military conflict in Titian’s Venice.

Titian’s approximately 4-by-7.5-foot grid is made up of 12 large individual woodcuts that create a single unified scene filled with minute details (find the nursing woman and the defecating dog) and expressive passages of waves and clouds. It’s on offer from David Tunick, a New York dealer in old master and modern prints who is also the president of the dealers association.

A close look at the Titian also shows traces of wormholes in the woodblocks and what appear to be centuries-old corrections drawn in ink where creases in the paper opened up after printing. One of only a dozen known examples of the print, it wears these marks of its history visibly, while standing in sharp contrast to the pristine impressions of Albrecht Dürer’s “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” (1498) in a rare early proof, also on offer in Tunick’s booth. Both prints have substantial six-figure price tags. (Head to the New York Public Library’s free “Treasures” exhibition to see Dürer’s more sculpturally inspired take on the supersized woodblock print in his “Triumphal Arch,” first published 1517.)

At David Zwirner, a majestic Vija Celmins, “Ocean Surface Wood Engraving” (2000), depicts a rectangle of open water viewed from above. (Priced at $45,000.) In the context of the fair, it provides an uncanny echo — across 500 years of print history — of a single page in the grid of Titian’s Red Sea. A Donald Judd woodcut, “Untitled” (1993), at Galerie Lelong & Co., superimposes thin vertical and horizontal red lines over a white rectangle inset within a bold black border, that similarly chimes across the centuries by revealing the grid as a fundamental compositional tool. (Priced slightly over $10,000.)

South African artist William Kentridge neatly matches the scale of the Titian, in a pair of contemporary works that continue a decadeslong collaboration with print studio and publisher David Krut Projects. In “The Old Gods Have Retired” (2022), an intaglio print centrally featuring a gnarled tree, the artist incorporates coffee liquid into the etching process to produce a roughly 5.5-by-7-foot artwork in an edition of 20 (each at $70,000, unframed).

The fair offers an opportunity to examine major works by marquee names, but bargains can often be found in the print market. Polígrafa Obra Gràfica, a publisher in Barcelona, Spain, presents a major set of prints, titled “Some Books,” by British duo Wood and Harrison for $30,000, while also selling work for less than $2,000 in its booth. Both the Bernard Jacobson Gallery in London and the Michigan printer and publisher Stewart & Stewart advertise prints for under $1,000.

With prints, even the works of major artists may be had for inexpensive prices with savvy hunting. On Thursday, Phillips auction house was offering a sale of works from the James Rosenquist estate, with eye-popping estimates, in the $500 to $1,000 range, for a major pop artist now featured prominently at the Museum of Modern Art.

For collector Jordan Schnitzer, buying prints at the fair is “like food: You’ll experience it and know whether you like it or not.” Schnitzer, of Portland, Oregon, who attended his first association print fair in the early 1990s, has built a collection of prints and multiples numbering more than 15,000 items.

Why does Schnitzer collect prints? “It’s wonderful to have art in your life,” he said. “You can get work from some of the biggest artists of our time that is much more affordable than the more unique works in painting or sculpture.”

None of the works in the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation booth are for sale; Schnitzer is participating as a collector rather than a dealer. For him, the fair is an opportunity to make and sustain relationships with dealers, galleries and publishers, and to see as much art in a day that would otherwise take a week.

Schnitzer’s booth is showcasing 26 works from Brooklyn artist Leonardo Drew. The work of four other influential artists — Robert Rauschenberg, Hank Willis Thomas, Julie Mehretu and Matthew Day Jackson — selected by Drew from Schnitzer’s collection, adorn the booth’s exterior walls.

The fair’s return to the Armory has the feel of a homecoming. But there are strategic considerations afoot as well.

In conversations with gallerists and dealers, I was told on more than one occasion that some local deep-pocketed collectors were more likely to visit a gallery’s booth in Paris or London than to head to the Javits Center in their own city. With the move back to the Armory, gallerists hope business will be better, especially among New York’s top-tier collectors.

If prints are like food, as Schnitzer suggests, the print fair is also an accessible place to pull up a seat at the table. When asked if prints were a good investment, Tunick modestly gestured with his hands, to explain a steady upward trend across the decades before demurring. “You should buy what you are passionate about,” he said.

Take note: The paper currency that we use, each crisp bill in denominations of $5 or more, is the result of a combination of offset, intaglio and letterpress printing. You probably already possess some pretty sophisticated prints. At the Armory, several people just might be willing to trade you for them. Prints for prints.

The International Fine Print Dealers Association Print Fair

Friday through Sunday, Park Avenue Armory, 643 Park Ave., Manhattan;

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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