Inside the 2023 IFPDA Print Fair in New York, Where Old Master Etchings Meet Contemporary Works
A glimpse into this year's fair—and how British Museum curators approach acquisitions at the event.
The 30th edition of the International Fine Print Dealers Association (IFPDA) Print Fair, which since 1991 has been a staple of New York’s fall art calendar, wrapped over the weekend. On offer from 77 international exhibitors were 500 years’ worth of fine art prints, from Old Master etchings to works made with the most cutting-edge contemporary printmaking techniques, at an unusually wide range of prices.
“We have things that are over $2 million at David Tunick—one of his Edvard Munch prints—and then we have things that are $200,” fair director Jenny Gibbs told me during opening day at the Jacob Javits Convention Center.
It’s that diversity that makes the fair an important stop for many museum curators, including British Museum curator of Modern and contemporary graphic art Catherine Daunt and Americas curator Rose Taylor. The colleagues flew in from London for the occasion with an eye toward acquisitions, armed with a small budget from the museum, plus considerable support from the institution’s Friends of Prints and Drawings group.
“I go to other fairs in Europe, and I feel like what I see here is very different,” Daunt said. “Particularly the contemporary American artists you don’t see as much—and it’s mainly the emerging art that we’re interested in when we come here.”
It was Daunt’s second trip to the print fair, after spending roughly £40,000 ($46,000) on five works for the collection at the 2022 event. She expected to pick up some three to five works this time around, for about the same total budget—but was also eager to meet with other professionals in the field, particularly the U.S. print shops and publishers.
“We’ve been talking to the galleries, and they’ve been like, ‘Oh yes, this institution has got this and this and this.’ It’s interesting to hear what other museums are collecting,” Taylor said, noting that she’d also enjoyed the fair’s opening day talk, “Behind the Scenes with the Print Curators.”
“Most museum collections, and we’re no exception, are aiming to diversify our collections. Sometimes that means bringing more diverse voices to our contemporary art collections. But that’s also looking back and seeing which artists have been excluded, whether that be women artists or people of color,” she added.
Sometimes, Daunt will attend a fair with a certain upcoming exhibition in mind, like the museum’s 2017 print show “The American Dream: Pop to the Present.” In her first visit to the IFPDA, Taylor was keeping an eye out for Indigenous art—but had only noticed works at two booths, of New Mexico’s Tamarind Institute, and Tandem Press in Madison, Wisconsin, which both had offerings from Jeffrey Gibson and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith.
For the two curators, day one of the fair was all about scoping out the offerings and actually getting the chance to see works in person that were of interest to the museum. Unless they are extremely confident an acquisition will be approved, Daunt and Taylor also have to confer with their department and start the formal acquisitions process—which can take months—before they can put a piece on reserve with a gallery.
“The different kind of mediums and materials being used makes it harder for us to just be like, ‘Great, that’ll pass,’ because other departments need to be consulted, like conservation, to determine if we have the capacity to care for a piece,” Taylor explained.
“Storage and conservation is a big consideration,” Daunt added. “In general, very large things are trickier for us to acquire because of the storage space.”
That probably rules out, for instance, the fair’s show-stopping special project from New York’s Sikkema Jenkins and Co., Our Labor, a monumental woodblock print and ink canvas by Yashua Klos that was inspired both by his own personal family after reconnecting to his absentee father’s siblings thanks to a DNA test, and Diego Rivera’s 1933 “Detroit Industry Murals.”
The installation at the fair is organized in tandem with the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition “Art for the Millions; American Culture and Politics in the 1930s” (through December 10) and is an impressive example of a contemporary artist pushing the boundaries of the medium.
“I love showing the scale of what printmaking can be, and that it can live outside the frame,” Gibbs said. “But people think this is a very contemporary practice—and Dürer actually did this in the 16th century with his Triumphal Arch, which was this giant composite. It’s not a new idea that you can create something epic out of a series of prints!”
But while it was too early for Daunt and Taylor to reveal what smaller-scale treasures they might be taking with them across the Atlantic, we did catch wind of at least one museum acquisition that was arranged ahead of the fair, with the Met snapping up an $18,000 portfolio from the collective Black Women of Print, a first-time exhibitor.
“Our interest is in diversifying the art world and showing people that there are thriving Black artists,” member Karen J. Revis said. “We’re a sisterhood and a support system.”
The portfolio featured three works each by the group’s six members, who were present at the booth, eager to talk with visitors about their practice. Priced at $18,000—or about an 80 percent discount compared to buying each artist’s work individually—the edition of seven was going quickly, with noted print collector Jordan Schnitzer adding one to his holdings.
The members of Black Women of Print weren’t the only artists on hand for the opening, which also drew big names like Maurizio Cattelan and Mel Bochner, as well as younger printmakers like Allison Bianco, showing her dreamy shipwreck prints with Rhode Island’s Cade Tompkins Projects. That’s a marked departure from other fairs, where artists often seem to steer clear of what can sometimes feel like a market feeding frenzy.
“Artists love prints. They collect each other’s prints, and they trade prints,” Gibbs said. “Mel Bochner said this was the only fair that he likes!”
She was in high spirits on opening day—“the energy has been amazing”—but was already looking ahead to the fair’s next edition, slated for February. This year’s fair will be the last in its traditional October slot, as well as at the Javits, as the event prepares to return to the Park Avenue Armory, where it was held until moving to the current venue in 2017.
(The Armory has focused more on hosting performances in recent years, and its lineup of art fairs had been limited to the Winter Show in January, the New York Antiquarian Book Fair in April, TEFAF in May and the ADAA Art Show and Salon Art and Design in November, but the venue is also welcoming back AIPAD’s fair, the Photography Show, which was held there from 2006 to 2016, this coming April.)
“Of course we’re moving now that we’ve finally figured out how to use the space. But we’re excited to go back to the Armory. It’s where we were for 20 years,” Gibbs said, noting that several dealers were coming back into the fold thanks to the change in venue, which she anticipates will bring with it a boost in foot traffic. “No one ever said ‘I was walking by the Javits and thought I’d see what was going on there!’”
The IFPDA Print Show is on view at the Javits Center, 429 11th Avenue, New York, New York, October 26–29, 2023.
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