‘I Feel So Lucky to Be in the Print World!’: Mega-Print Collector Jordan Schnitzer Takes Us on an Ebullient, Emotional Tour of the IFPDA Fair
There were tears of joy on multiple occasions.
We were just a few feet inside the entrance of the International Fine Print Dealers Association’s Fine Art Print Fair when we spotted Portland real estate tycoon Jordan Schnitzer making plans for his next purchase. He was having an animated chat with the street artist Swoon, who had created the fair’s first-ever site-specific installation with a selection of her etchings and woodcuts of female figures.
Perhaps the world’s most prominent collector of contemporary-art prints, Schnitzer currently owns roughly 14,000 prints—800 of which he’s purchased this year. Schnitzer had arrived a few minutes early for the fair’s VIP preview on Wednesday, just as Swoon was finishing a photo shoot with the New York Times.
Helen Toomer, the fair’s new director, stepped in to introduce the pair and Schnitzer was immediately impressed. He doesn’t own anything by Swoon, “but I need to,” he told artnet News. He decided her work would be an ideal addition to what he calls his “teaching collection.” Whereas many collectors keep much of their art in storage, or perhaps in a private museum with limited public access, the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation has staged more than 200 exhibitions of its collection at institutions across the country, typically at small museums and universities. (There is also a trio of museums bearing the Schnitzer name at universities in Washington and Oregon.)
Part of the appeal of prints for Schnitzer is their relative affordability. There are already plenty of world-class collections of paintings out there, and he’s not interested in trophy hunting. “I’m building the most extensive teaching collection in the country. It’s a whole different mission,” he said. “It’s all about stewardship.”
“The big contemporary art dealers, those prices I think are obnoxious. That’s unfair of me to say. Maybe the Steve Cohens and the Ken Griffins, maybe they get as much joy as I get,” Schnitzer said.
Soon the other VIPs are streaming in, many of them jockeying for a word with the collector. Art dealer Doug Roberts greets him and quickly proposes an idea for a new book—Schnitzer has published 12 so far—a comprehensive catalogue raisonné for the prints of David Hockney.
“The two that are currently are in existence that everybody cites are so lacking,” Roberts, a friend of Hockney, told Schnitzer, who happens to own a copy of the first print the artist ever made, back in 1955.
As we round the corner, we find the booth of New York’s Brooke Alexander, Inc. “Brooke is one of my heroes,” Schnitzer said. “He’s worked with giant artists, you name them—he’s been around for 50 years.”
Arriving at the fair, Schnitzer is typically familiar with much of what’s on offer, but he always looks forward to seeing new works in person after having reviewed PDFs and JPGs ahead of time. Within just a few minutes at Alexander’s booth, the collector agreed to buy a large-scale print of a surfer riding a wave by Raymond Pettibon for $9,500. “I love the lyrical power and energy, and the use of negative space,” he said, getting misty eyed.
It wasn’t, however, his first print purchase of the day. “I’ve been a bad boy,” Schnitzer told Jennifer Farrell, the curator of modern and contemporary prints at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. He rattled off a list of works he had snapped up that afternoon at the prints and multiples sale at Christie’s New York. There was a Frank Stella, a Robert Rauschenberg, a James Rosenquist, a Chuck Close, and a set of numbers by Robert Indiana.
And then there was the big one, the one that made Schnitzer tear up while talking: Jasper Johns’s Flags I, a piece he has always wanted for the collection, and couldn’t resist at that day’s auction. Its the most expensive print he’s ever bought.
Not that Schnitzer’s already expensive day was holding him back at the fair. He appeared to blanch at the $85,000 price tag on a unique cast paper work by Li Songsong from New York’s Pace Prints. The artist “is the Rauschenberg of China,” argued gallery president Dick Solomon.
He instead made several purchases at Shark’s Ink, a print publisher in Lyons, Colorado. “It’s important to support these folks,” he said, noting that their prices are range from about $1,000 to $19,000. “By time they pay the artists the 40 or 50 percent or whatever, and they pay the production costs—I mean, my gosh,” said Schnitzer. “It’s like a labor of love.”
Schnitzer will visit the fair every day before he flies back to Oregon on Saturday night. He’ll also visit various galleries, museums, and other New York Print Week events, all of which are carefully notated in a multi-page itinerary he carried with him at the fair.
But on Wednesday night, things were slightly behind schedule. Nearly two hours into the opening, Schnitzer had only made it about halfway down the first aisle in a fair of 71 exhibitors. At each booth, he caught up with a never-ending stream of friends and colleagues. He was clearly enjoying himself—and that was before he bumped into Hung Liu, a Chinese American artist whose work he owns in large numbers but who he had never met.
Giddy with excitement, Schnitzer rushed back up to the front of the fair to grab his suitcase, where he keeps a binder listing all the works in the collection, flipping to the pages detailing Liu’s work. He handed her a Schnizter Family Foundation branded tote bag with a selection of his books that featured her prints, and asked Catherine Malone, his director of collections for the last 17 years, to snap a photo.
“I’ve collected her stuff for years,” he said, tears welling up in his eyes for the third time that day. “All I know is I feel so lucky to be in the print world!”
The International Fine Print Dealers Association’s Fine Art Print Fair is on view at the River Pavilion, Javits Center, 429 11th Avenue at 35th Street, New York, New York, October 23–27, 2019.
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