In Praise of the Humble Print

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In Praise of the Humble Print

The International Fine Print Dealers Association (IFPDA) Print Fair is back this weekend at Manhattan’s Javits Center after a two-year pandemic hiatus. From 400-year-old etchings to boundary-pushing prints that make one wonder whether it wouldn’t have been easier to just paint that, this year’s show offers a comprehensive examination of an overlooked medium.

Upon entrance to the fair, visitors are met with the IFPDA’s large-scale Derrick Adams commission “Eye Candy” (2022), a colorful contemplation of Blackness, masculinity, and consumerism, and a work so eye-catching that it’s easy to forget prints are sometimes disregarded in the art world. At Thursday’s opening, art consultant Victoria Hayward told Hyperallergic that she thinks prints are often overlooked because they aren’t one-of-a-kind.

“But there are different processes that can make them unique in their own ways,” Hayward continued. “At the end of the day, it’s just a really neat, and I think underrepresented, form of artwork.”

Alex Israel, “Desperado” (2021), print on handmade paper

While booth attendants at other art fairs often maintain the frigid manners of established galleries, exhibitors at the Print Fair were all too willing to talk about the work adorning their walls, in all its scientific and technological specificity.

Mixografia, a gallery and printmaker in Los Angeles, exhibited some of the fair’s most inventive works. To create his reliefs of cars and cacti, artist Alex Israel first created sculptures of his subject matter, which the printmaking studio then scanned, scaled down to a one-inch relief, and generated with a 3-D printer. The studio then made a mold, created handmade paper, painted the mold, and finally pressed the sculptural paper into the inked mold. The result is a highly-detailed work, complete with shading to match the shadows of the relief.

Another Mixografia work by artist Jacob Hashimoto employed a similar method to achieve a striking lifelike depiction of nails, tape, and string.

“All of this is just paper and ink,” said the gallery’s assistant director Preston Fox, adding that it takes about 18 hours to get each color into the mold and then press the paper. The studio created 19 editions, which Fox said meant 19 days of prepping and printing.

Jacob Hashimoto’s “Tracing the Ever-Fragile Balance of Dreamless Silence: This Unruly Forest, These Imaginings, and…,” (2019)

“We really try to push an artist’s practice and do things they maybe can’t do on their own,” said Kristin DuFrain, curator and registrar at the University of South Florida’s Graphicstudio, another print publisher at this year’s fair that works directly with artists. William Villalongo’ wanted the surface of his print, “Palimpsest” (2017), to look like asphalt, so the artist took rubbings from Graphicstudio’s driveway and the workshop found a screen printing ink that puffs up when it’s heated. While Villalongo uses hand cutting in his regular practice, the studio used laser cutting to expedite the edition-making process.

Other galleries exhibited more traditional artworks. Elizabeth Iacullo of Galerie Maximillian in Aspen, Colorado said that the fair is an important opportunity to put their work in front of a New York audience, and the print-focused gallery showed a salable collection of works by artists including David Hockney and Alex Katz. Derrick Adams made another appearance in a small space at the back of Galerie Maximillian’s booth with a mirrored self-portrait at the barber shop. Iacullo said she loves the piece because of it’s interactive component, a welcome break from the show’s slew of matte works on paper.

While prints’ affordability positions them as an entry point into art collecting, work at the fair ranged dramatically in price: The least expensive prints I saw were $325, unframed, and the most expensive reached into the hundreds of thousands.

“I think the fair attracts more young and emerging collectors because it’s more financially feasible for them,” Hayward said.

A Derrick Adams self portrait at a barber shop, on display at Galerie Maximillian’s booth

While many of the fair’s booths displayed colorful work by the art market’s trendiest names, others structured themselves more like museums. At John Szoke Gallery’s booth, wall labels contextualized a selection of Pablo Picasso prints, and at the booth of Jörg Maaß Kunsthandel, based in Berlin, a thematically curated selection of early 20th-century German art hung from the white walls.

Other galleries disregarded the white-booth standard of traditional fairs all together, opting to transport the essence of their galleries to the cavernous Javits Center.

“We are antiquarians,” Alan Stone of Hill-Stone Gallery, located in South Dartmouth, Massachusetts, told Hyperallergic. Gilded frames lined the faint blue walls, and additional works rested on antique furniture. Although odd 18th and 19th-century ephemera could be seen across the fair, Hill-Stone’s booth offered some of the strangest. Co-owner Lesley Hill pointed to a personal favorite: a series of 18th-century etchings of the moon, complete with pumpkin sailboats. Hill and Stone said they come to the fair to attract the eyes of curators and collectors, but also to see what other booths are offering, and sometimes, to buy works.

Hill-Stone Gallery is located in South Dartmouth, Massachusetts.
Filippo Morghen’s renderings of the moon, printed 1766-1767

“They know us, we know them,” said Stone, who launched the gallery in 1976, two years before meeting his wife Lesley Hill. “Our world is a very small world,” said Hill. “We know everyone who deals in these things.”

DuFrain of Graphicstudios said the community is very “close-knit.” She added that her workshop goes to the New York fair to make connections, which she thinks is especially important for the Tampa-based gallery. “And to see all of our print dealer friends,” DuFrain added.

The IFPDA Print Fair continues at the Javits Center through Sunday, October 30.

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