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The following opinion piece, "Grattitude?" (the title, assigned by Art & Auction, is a melding of "gratitude" and "attitude") by Dr. Williams, appeared in Art & Auction in April 2009. Dr. Williams has received many letters commenting on the article, which has been circulated by development directors across the country. One of them wrote:

"A trustee of a museum emailed the article to his Director of Development to read and ponder and then the DoD emailed it on to colleagues like myself with the message "Very interesting. It is a powerful and instructive wake-up call to myopic (my words would be 'just plain stupid') museum professionals. Thank you!"


"Grattitude?"

When the National Gallery of Art announced in January that my husband, Dave, and I were donating our print collection to the museum, articles about the gift appeared in the New York Times and the Washington Post. Our collection, of more than 5,000 prints by more than 2,000 American artists, from 19th-century etchings to Pop art. Its greatest strength lies in its pieces from the first six decades of the 20th century, particularly those made in the Depression era and under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration. Familiar names abound- George Bellows, Stuart Davis, Childe Hassam, Edward Hopper-but the collection was best known for the outstanding quality of its examples by lesser-known artists active from the 1920s to the 1940s.

Letters poured in thanking us for the gift to the nation, many of them from print collectors and dealers. Only three employees of other museums-two of them London based- wrote to us, although we have circulated, at our expense, 18 exhibitions from our collection to about 100 museums.

Museum personnel have long amazed us. They seem to march to an unusual beat, if they march at all. Consider the Northeastern U.S. museum where two of our shows attracted good audiences and where, because the institution itself owned few prints, we offered to build a print room and help it acquire a print collection. The director invited us to look at "the perfect space." The room was unsuitable-it had many windows, bright light, little wall space. When we demurred, he explained that he expected us to pay to have it converted into a restaurant. We asked, "What about the prints?" "Oh, you can hang a few in the restaurant," he replied. We told him that we didn't finance restaurants, and he became enraged, berating us for our lack of generosity. We never returned.

While touring a shabby Connecticut museum devoid of visitors except for us, we were asked by the director to describe the exhibitions we fund. We told her we support American print exhibitions, preferably group shows, with a concentration on work from the first half of the 20th century. She listened intently, taking notes. The proposal she sent us asked for a substantial check to pay for a large exhibition of American Impressionist paintings. When we reminded her of the type of shows we support, she was irate. "But I don't want a print exhibition," she complained. "I want the show I described in the proposal." We wished her luck.

These episodes reminded us of the famous Harvard Business Review article "Marketing Myopia," whose author, Theodore Levitt, points out that corporate managers who ignore their customers' desires reduce their chances of success. Change the word customers to patrons, and it's easy to see that the two museums cited suffer from marketing myopia. Neither has flourished.

New York institutions we might have considered as homes for our collection displayed a similar lack of interest in our prints. For many years we had a close relationship with the Metropolitan Museum's Bill Lieberman, a champion at attracting collections. Because of his interest in the category, we contributed funds to buy prints, underwrote an exhibition and in 1999 donated more than 200 rare examples by African-Americans working in the 1930s and 1940s. Since Bill's death in 2005, no one at the Met has shown the slightest interest in our collection.

We have been members of the Museum of Modern Art's Print Associates for 15 years or more and have financed one exhibition and assisted in financing others. But during the five years that our prints resided in a Stamford, Connecticut, building we bought to house them and that was available to tour by appointment, neither the MoMA print curator nor the Associates visited. Shortly after we donated our prints and the building to the National Gallery, but before the donation was announced, the curator tried-too late-to arrange a group visit.

This odd behavior on the part of museum personnel does not affect just us. Members of a wealthy family whom we know collect American and contemporary art and specify these interests in the official description of their foundation. But they are still besieged with unrelated requests. Now they send out a form letter that begins "We do not support" followed by a list. They also keep notes on institutions that haven't properly prepared their requests.

Perhaps the robust U.S. economy of the past 25 years allowed curators to show indifference to would-be donors capable of benefiting their institutions and to reject offered gifts, urging instead the support of projects in which the donors have no interest. But the outlook for museums has changed with the recent downturn. The value of Institutional endowments have declined sharply. Trustees at Brandeis University have responded to the decrease in its endowment from $712 million to $540 million by threatening to close its Rose Art Museum and sell the collection. Corporations that once sponsored exhibitions have disappeared, as have many of the hedge funds that had enriched free-spending new collectors. Museum personnel, if they want to remain employed, will make patrons' interests and desires major concerns of their future fund-raising. Marketing myopia has no place in the museum world today.

The following review by Dr. Williams appeared in a slightly different version in Print Quarterly, XXIV, 2007, 3.

Mexico and Modern Printmaking A Revolution in the Graphic Arts 1920-1950, edited by John Ittmann, exhibition catalogue, Philadelphia Museum of Art and McNay Art Museum in association with Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2006. 289 pp., 53 col. And 250 b. & w. ills.

This stunning exhibition catalogue contains almost everything anyone would want to know about an important subject that has received far too little attention. When the topic of Mexican prints has been addressed, the resulting books and catalogues often perpetuated old inaccuracies. Contributors to this catalogue have taken a fresh look at existing material, updated it and provided new information, including elusive death dates. The scholarship is thorough and comprehensive; the 30 pages of discursive footnotes are an education in themselves, and earlier misinformation has been corrected. The 125 prints and posters in the exhibition, drawn almost entirely from the collections of the two organizing museums, are magnificent. Such a lavish display of Mexican prints in the USA has rarely, if ever, been seen, and like all great exhibitions, makes the viewer long for more.

Anyone interested in Mexican prints or the beginning of printmaking in the Americas will want to read the opening essay by Lyle W. Williams, Curator of Prints and Drawings at the McNay Art Museum. "Evolution of a Revolution, a Brief History of Printmaking in Mexico" is only 21 pages long, but crammed with fascinating tidbits, like "The first press in the New World was established in Mexico City in 1539" and "Lithography [was] brought to Mexico in 1826."

When Williams turns to a general view of Mexican printmaking, he explains that although "a parallel is often drawn between Mexican and U.S. printmaking of the 1930s and 1940s, the prints and their makers were much more thoroughly integrated with the social fabric of Mexico." This is true, but U.S. art of those decades may have become a more integral part of society as a result of lessons learned from Mexico. North American art owes an enormous debt to Mexican artists, a debt rarely recognized in art history courses or textbooks, but that will be obvious to perusers of this catalogue.

Diego Rivera (1886-1957), José Clemente Orozco (1883-1949) agnd David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1974) made many of their prints for the U.S. market, and all three worked with the New York-based master lithographer, George C. Miller, from whom--like other artists of the period--they learned a great deal. The publication of their prints spread their ideas, images and artistic styles and was a major part of the cultural exchange between Mexico and the U.S.A.

Innis Howe Shoemaker, Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, addresses the exchange in "Crossing Borders, The Weyhe Gallery and the Vogue for Mexican Art in the United States 1926-40." Shoemaker documents the role of the New York-based Weyhe Gallery; its director, Carl Zigrosser (1891-1975) from 1919 to 1940; the U.S. writer and Mexico resident, William Spratling (1900-67), and other U.S. citizens in bringing both Mexican prints and printmakers to the United States.

In 1940, when Zigrosser left the Weyhe Gallery, he became the Print Curator at Philadelphia Museum of Art, where he continued to explore his interest in Mexican art until his retirement in 1965. Shoemaker's account of Zigrosser's Philadelphia years is especially valuable, dealing as it does with a less-publicized aspect of Zigrosser's career than the Weyhe years. When Zigrosser retired, the Museum purchased his collection of American art, and after his death in 1976 acquired from his widow 134 prints and drawings created by artists who were born in Mexico or had worked there most of their careers. This material is the source of new and specific details in the history of some of the prints discussed in the catalogue.

An essay by John Ittmann, Curator of Prints at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, focuses on "Gringos: Foreign Artists in Mexico in the 1920s and 1930s," a time when U.S. artists made the pilgrimage to Mexico to work with and learn from the muralists. As Ittmann points out, a number of those "gringos" were printmakers; among them were the U.S. artist George Overbury 'Pop' Hart (1868-1933) who worked with Diego Rivera and later made prints of Mexican scenes; George Bilddle (1885-1973), who was so impressed with the murals he saw in Mexico that he suggested a similar government-sponsored program in the U.S., and led the way to the art projects of the WPA-FAP; Spratling, cited above, who settled in Taxco and attracted other artists to the area; Olin Dows (1904-1981); Natalie Scott (1890-1957); Caroline Durieux (1896-1989); Howard Cook (1901-1980); Barbara Latham (1896-1989); Marion Greenwood (1909-1970) and Clara Mairs (1878-1963).

Ittmann also discusses artists from other countries who visited Mexico, notably the French-born Jean Charlot (1898-1979); the British Leon Underwood (1890-1975); the Japanese Tamaji Kitigawa (1894-1989) and the Slovakian Koloman Sokol (1902-2003). Works by some of the "gringos" discussed are included in the exhibition; others, like Marion Greenwood, are mentioned but not represented by prints.

Ittmann alludes to another aspect of how the influence of the Mexican artists was disseminated in this discussion of Lucienne Bloch (1909-1999), who assisted Rivera with his Detroit murals and was inspired to portray the artist in the position in which she most often saw him in the Muralist at Work, (Diego Rivera) of 1933. The topic of U.S. artists who learned from the Mexican artists working in the USA is not a part of this catalogue, but could be an exhibition on its own.

Essays on seven less well-known artists-Dr. Atl (Gerardo Murillo) (1875-1964), Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991), Leopoldo Mendez (1902-1964), Alfredo Zalce (1908-2003), Francisco Dosamantes (1911-1986), Isidoro Ocampo (1910-1989) and Jesús Escobedo (1918-1978)-contain their biographies and the history of each artist's printmaking. Of the major Mexican artists, Rivera is the most famous printmaker, and led the fashion for Mexican art. In his essay on Rivera, Ittmann describes how Zigrosser persuaded Rivera to make lithographs in Mexico for the Weyhe Gallery to publish, and draws on Shoemaker's use of Zigrosser's collection of cancelled plates, working proofs and invoices, etc., to establish the dates on which Rivera made each print. For example, his first two prints, Flower Market and Market, were completed on 20 October 1930. A checklist of Rivera's prints includes all the specific dates discovered.

Rivera's second group of prints for the Weyhe Gallery was printed in New York by George Miller. Each lithograph is based on a detail or a variation of an image from one of his murals. The last of this series was Zapata, 1932, Rivera's best known and most-admired print. As Lyle Williams points out, "Diego Rivera's lithograph Zapata, 1932, is one of the seminal images of twentieth century printmaking, a landmark in the history not only of Mexican Art but of modern art."

In his essay on Orozco, Ittmann questioned the attribution by the artists to Orozco of five early woodcuts, "on the grounds that this medium would have been difficult for an artist who had lost his left hand as the result of an accident in 1904." Ittmann may be right, but visitors in the 1980s to Taller de Gráfica Popular in Mexico City, where both Mexican and visiting artists made prints, were astonished by the facility of a TGP lithographer with only one arm. Ittmann also revised the dates of some of Orozco's prints as published in earlier catalogues, although the prints that the artist made for the Weyhe Gallery, documented in the Gallery's records, remain unchanged. This series was drawn on mural details and his lithograph Hands of 1929 is a typical example.

In his essay on Siqueiros, Ittmann writes that because of the artist's "intermittent"; as a consequence, Siqueiros produced relatively few prints. Some of his most interesting works were made for the U.S. market. Of one of these, his zinc lithograph, Black Woman (Profiles) of 1936, Ittmann wrote that it was drawn on 'one of his latest paintings, an enigmatic double portrait composed of overlapping profiles'. Ittmann opines that the model for this print may have been a well-known photograph of the unfinished painting (which remains unlocated.)

Lyle Williams' essay on Dosamantes is briefer and less detailed than some of the others. Dosamantes never worked in the United States, the sources used for the other Mexican printmakers--Weyhe Gallery records, George Miller's notes, etc.--do not mention him. The paucity of footnotes in this essay, unusual in this catalogue, suggests the need for further study on Dosamantes. While the artist was politically involved and created prints with political content, he is best known for works that celebrate the indigenous people of Mexico, like Three Yalaltecan Women, 1946, a lithograph published by Associated American Artists that same year as Women of Oaxaca.

It is perhaps impossible to produce a flawless catalogue of this size and complexity. Dosamantes's anonymous women suggest the only flaw in Mexico and Modern Printmaking: the under-representation of female artists. This is a pity, because women played important and public roles in Mexico in the period covered by the exhibition and their work is typically excellent-no need for political correctness here. The most striking example is that of Elizabeth Catlett (b. 1915), who is not American as her listing in the checklist states: she worked in Mexico for more than 50 years and became a Mexican citizen in 1962. Catlett, a great artist, is given short shrift in the text and is represented by only two works. A prominent place for her should have been a must, and there are many other female Mexican printmakers who might also have been included and illustrated in place of some of the very large number of prints by men.

The essay on foreign artists in Mexico could have been significantly strengthened by the substitution of works by Marion Greenwood, Henrietta Shore (1880-1963), and Emmy Lou Packard (1913-1998) for three of the six prints by Howard Cook (1901-1980). Cook was a competent artist, but his Mexican prints are bland. The three women cited made vibrant and exciting prints of Mexican subjects, conveying the enthusiasm of visitors who fell in love with what they saw-which, after all, is a major theme of the exhibition.
 

The following review by Dr. Williams appeared in a slightly different version in Print Quarterly, XXV, 2008, 3.

The first 42 pages of this handsome catalogue, Edna Boies Hopkins: Strong in Character, Colorful in Expression., by Dominique H. Vasseur, Ohio University Press in association with the Columbus (Ohio) Museum of Art, OH, 114 pp., 112 col. And 6 b. & w. ills., provide a detailed account of Edna Bel Beachboard Boies Hopkins's life and death, correcting published misinformation about both of those milestones-she was born in 1872, not 1877 as stated on her death certificate; and she died in 1937 in Detroit, not in New York. She married John Henry Boies in 1892, and was widowed two years later. In 1904, she married fellow artist James Roy Hopkins (1877-1969).

Edna Boies Hopkins, admired in her own time and today for her color woodblock prints, took art courses throughout her life, including a term in New York at Pratt Institute with Arthur Wesley Dow (1857-1922). At Pratt she was introduced to Japanese woodblock prints, and later studied woodblock printmaking in Japan. Her early prints are pale and delicate, imitative of Japanese works, but in 1905 she and her husband moved to Paris, where she became acquainted with the work of European artists. Around 1909-1910, her prints became more vivid in color; hence the catalogue subtitle, "colorful in expression."

After Hopkins returned to the U.S. in 1914, she taught woodblock printmaking in both the New York and Provincetown branches of the Modern Art School, founded by William and Marguerite Zorach, and Bror Julius Olsson Nordfeldt. When Nordfeldt developed the white-line or single block method around 1914, Hopkins experimented with the technique, first in her Provincetown landscapes, later in some of her other works.

Hopkins found Paris and New York far more appealing than the academic life in Ohio chosen by her husband. Dressed in trousers, her hair dyed red and cropped short, Hopkins, disregarding those who disapproved of her eccentricity, spent more of her time in New York and Paris than in living with her husband. (Presumably this independent behavior accounts for the catalogue subtitle "strong in character"). All of this information is meticulously documented in seven pages of 95 footnotes.

The second part of Edna Boies Hopkins (43-103) is devoted to the catalogue raisonne´ of the artist's color woodblock prints, and a few related works-mostly drawings and water colors. The prints are divided into three groups-Landscapes, cats 1-4; Figurative Scenes, cats 5-19, and Florals, cats 20-74. All but four of the prints are illustrated in color; those four, for which impressions were not located, are illustrated from black and white photographs taken years ago.

Vasseur explains that the catalogue raisonne´ is organized by subject rather than chronologically because "a definite chronology is difficult to ascertain." Hopkins rarely dated her prints, but Vasseur has assigned dates to each, using all the usual approaches-stylistic comparisons; exhibition histories; specific periods when Hopkins was in particular locations (her "mountaineer" prints were made in 1917 when she visited Cumberland Falls, Kentucky); articles in the press; and the seals or chops she used at various times.

As Vasseur writes, 'one of the major objectives of the catalogue raisonné is to provide a standardized title,' and a listing of alternate titles. This rationalization of titles was necessary because some collectors or dealers gave the prints new titles instead of using those Hopkins assigned. Those who selected new titles sometimes ignored the flowers pictured, and gave the print the title of a totally different flower. Phlox, Cat 53, was retitled White Hydrangea (which it definitely is not) in 1986 in a dealer's catalogue. Bramble, Cat 25, was changed to Blackberry (which it definitely is not). Similarly, Lilies, Cat 42, picked up the alternate title Moonflowers (Ipomoea Alba), which are always white, while the flowers in Cat. 42 are yellow, (Fig 136). Finally, the title Violets and Phlox, Cat 69, (Fig 137), seems to have sprung out of nowhere, and is almost certainly wrong, as the white flowers portrayed are not phlox, and while violets are present, so are other flowers in two shades of blue. (A related work, not illustrated, in the collection of Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, is titled Early Spring Flowers. Perhaps this would have been a better title for Cat 69.) These add-on or substitute titles have all been included, with an alphabetical index to lead the reader to the standardized titles. The catalogue raisonne´, with its beautiful illustrations and lists of collections where the prints can be seen, is most welcome.
 

The following article by Dr. Williams appeared in Journal of the Print World Vol.32 No.3 Summer 2009.

What We Kept and Why

In late 2008, more than 5000 of our prints, most of our art library, and the building that housed our print collection and the books and files, became the property of The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. This was not a sudden decision on our part. We weighed it carefully, and devoted considerable time to deciding which prints would remain in our possession.

Why did we decide to break up the collection and dispose of most of it? We weren't tired of the prints, but after five years of caring for the collection as we'd established it - that is, open to visitors by appointment - we wanted to move on to other projects. Because we were never able to find the right people to oversee, catalog and display the collection, we found our role with the prints too time consuming. Most of those who applied to work at The Print Research Foundation had no art background, and no one we hired was willing to take art history classes, even at our expense and on our time.

We were not surprised that visitors wanted us to guide them through the collection, and to respond to their questions. We winced when employees dispensed inaccurate information, and we often received incorrect answers in reply to our own queries. If we had been able to hire print-knowledgeable staff-or those willing to study and learn-we'd probably still own the collection.

Fortunately, we had plenty of experience in parting with prints before 2008. Some years ago, we donated more than 200 prints by African American artists of the 1930s-1940s to The Metropolitan Museum. Later, we sold some of our Mexican prints, and donated the remainder to the British Museum. We found that we missed some of those prints so much, we bought impressions to replace them. Two of these twice-bought prints were Diego Rivera's Zapata, 1932, and Raymond Steth's Heaven on a Mule, ca. 1935-1943.

But we've also donated or sold prints that we were never able to replace because of their rarity. We don't think we made that mistake this time. We kept the rarest prints -those where there are only 2-4 known impressions, or in one case, the only existing impression. We also retained works we especially enjoy having around us. For example, we own more than 100 color woodcuts of all types. (I suspect ours is the only kitchen in New York decorated with all of Luigi Rist's vegetable prints.) Our slimmed down collection consists of more than 500 prints, including the woodcuts. And we plan to continue to collect.

Reba White Williams, PhD., has written about prints for more than 20 years. Her book, The Weyhe Gallery Between the Wars 1919-1940, is widely used for reference.

 

 

 


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