Thursday, June 19, 2008

Reproduction: Limiting the Print Frenzy

By the end of Nineteenth Century, detractors decried the loss of exclusivity caused by the technological introductions of large print runs and photography. For the previous five hundred years in the West, collectors had been happy to snap up as many artist prints as could be produced, and artists happily adopted every new printing technology that enabled them to reach wider audiences for their work. That all changed with the introduction of limited editions, hand signed copies, and what artist Jean-Francois Millet (1814-1875) called the "brutal and barbarous matter" of cancelling plates [PLATE 14].[1]

Elizabeth Wyckoff, the New York Public Library's print specialist, credits French critic Phillippe Burty (1830-1890) with first conceiving and promoting the concept of "limited edition."[2] Burty is most famous for coining the term Japonisme in the 1870s, and for his early support of Impressionism. He was a founding member of the Société des Aquafortistes (Etcher's Society), which was set up in 1862 primarily to prevent photography from being accepted as art. Many influential artists joined the Aquafortistes and signed petitions against photography, including neoclassicist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867) [PLATE 15] and others.[3]

Print clubs that specialized in limited editions of high-quality fine-art prints began to appear throughout Europe and America, based on the model of the Société des Aquafortistes.[4] In the second half of the Twentieth Century, this European tradition led to the establishment of experimental print workshops such as Tatyana Grosman's Universal Limited Art Editions in 1957 (Bay Shore, Long Island), June Wayne's Tamarind Lithography Workshop in 1960 (first in Los Angeles then Albuquerque), Ken Tyler's Gemini Graphics Editions Limited (Los Angeles then Tyler Graphics in Mount Kisco, NY and finally the Singapore Tyler Print Institute) [PLATE 16]. These master workshops were responsible for training a generation of fine art printers, spawning dozens of print shops throughout North America, developing incredibly innovative printmaking techniques, and publishing original and limited edition prints by the most famous names in Postwar American art. [5]

Yet the broader trends of Twentieth-Century cultural reproduction defied such refined limitation, and had immeasurably greater impact on the art world and the world at large.

1. James McNeill Whistler. Agnes. 1873/1878.
Etching, catalogue number: Kennedy 134, 225 x 150 mm (8 7/8" x 5 15/16"). This impression is taken from the cancelled plate & printed on laid paper with a high-crown watermark. Repaired one-inch tear in lower-left margin outside plate mark. Image size: 224x151mm. Courtesy of Spaightwood Galleries.

2. Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Odalisque. 1825.
Lithograph, 131 x 210 mm (5 3/16 x 8 1/4") plus margins. Delteil 9, only state. Published by Delpech in Album lithographique, 1826. Courtesy of R. E. Lewis & Daughter Gallery.

3. Sidney B. Felsen. Daniel Buren at Gemini workshop. 1988.
Photograph. © Gemini G.E.L., Los Angeles, California, 2001. Courtesy of National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

[1] Wyckoff 2000, p. 17.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Holbert 2004.
[4] Goddard 1998.
[5] Platzker 2000, p. 27.

No comments: