Polly Apfelbaum: Empress Theodora, 2013, woodblock, 79 by 79 inches, unique. Courtesy Durham Press, Durham, Pa.

 

New York's annual Print Week has opened one fair short, and contemporary art is the casualty. While the week's highlight, the International Fine Print Dealers Association (IFPDA) Print Fair, now in its 23rd year, premiered Wednesday night at the Park Avenue Armory with the usual stellar mix of print offerings of all periods, its wholly contemporary counterpart, the Editions/Artists Book (E/AB) fair, with its indie vibe, is now defunct.

Established by New York's Susan Inglett and Brooke Alexander 15 years ago and mounted in various Chelsea venues over the years, E/AB was canceled last November due to Superstorm Sandy. After a controversy over the reimbursement of dealers' fees, the fair appeared in a reduced version last winter in conjunction with the city's designer-oriented Metro Show. This was to be E/AB's last gasp.

Participation in the IFPDA fair is limited to members. Some E/AB exhibitors, particularly the younger participants, were not members of IFPDA, or could not afford the heftier fees of IFPDA booths. A few of these are appearing in a very small invitational on view during Print Week at David Krut Gallery on 26th Street, in Chelsea.

Among the E/AB refugees spotted at the IFPDA opening was Dusica Kirjakovic, director of New York's Lower East Side Printshop (LESP). "Young artists and small publishers (such as LESP) greatly miss the opportunity to show their work during the peak of the season," says Kirjakovic. "It's a great loss for serious collectors and print enthusiasts alike. As a publisher without a gallery space, LESP looked forward to E/AB as a way to advance its artists and cultivate a broad audience."

A few ex-E/AB printer-publishers have managed to slip their editions into the IFPDA fair. A suite of palm-tree etchings by Josh Smith, for example, fresh off the press from Greg Burnet Editions, is available at Carolina Nitsch, who has also brought works by the late artists Louise Bourgeois and Sigmar Polke, among other wares.

Nonetheless, among the 90 international exhibitors at this year's Print Fair, more than a third are dedicated to contemporary art. They include high-power veterans like Pace Prints (New York) and Alan Cristea (London), and smaller printer-publishers such as Harlan & Weaver (New York) and Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE, West Islip). Altogether, the contemporary purveyors have brought more than 200 new editions to the fair.

Visitors have been wowed, for example, by a stupendous woodblock print by Polly Apfelbaum that faces the entrance. Empress Theodora is a 79-inch-square piece produced from hundreds of small, diamond-shaped pieces puzzled together and inked in solid or rainbow-roll colors. Apfelbaum produced it in August, after returning from a year in Italy on the Rome Prize. "It's named for the Byzantine Empress commemorated in a mosaic in Ravenna," Apfelbaum told A.i.A., while virtually glowing next to her tour de force. "She was a real feminist!" The print is the star offering at Durham Press of Durham, Pa., which is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Besides Apfelbaum, the booth also offers new works by Chitra Ganesh and James Nares, among others.

A number of contemporary prints are striking in their evocation of past masters, a quality that is only enhanced by the presence of so many booths with historical offerings. One is struck by the expressionist overtones in two recent prints by Tal R at newcomer Niels Borch Jensen (Copenhagen), or the Picassoesque figuration in Markus Lüpertz's After Poussin: Massacre of the Innocent (2012), a hand-colored drypoint at Galerie Sabine Knust (Munich).

Jensen and Knust are among the international exhibitors that are being particularly targeted for recruitment by the IFPDA. Its new president, Paula Panczenko, director of Tandem Press, said in an interview, "We hope to expand on our outreach to international members. There are so many people around the world interested in prints and we hope to expand that audience through fairs and other educational efforts in Europe." Lone Weigelt, of Niels Borch Jensen, told A.i.A., "It's becoming more and more difficult [to market prints] in Europe—that is why we are here."

In fact, the second annual Richard Hamilton Acquisition Prize, an award of $10,000 given by the IFPDA Foundation for the purchase of a print by a public museum, was given this year to a European institution, the British Museum. The museum's intent, according to director Neil MacGregor, is to acquire a modern or contemporary print.

There are deals to be had at the fair. Visitors at the preview were seen at Harlan and Weaver pawing through small etchings by the Colombian artist José Antonio Suarez Londoño, with price tags as low as $350 apiece. An etching by Suarez Londoño, Boatman (2012), was selected as the Print Fair's emblem this year. Harlan and Weaver also has a striking display that contrasts cerebral images of the sky by Christiane Baumgartner with Joanne Greenbaum's robust, colorful abstractions, etchings all.

But the allure of the IFPDA Print Fair is without a doubt the opportunity to see contemporary and historical works side by side, as prints by Mel Bochner (Two Palms), Dieter Roth (Diane Villani) and Judy Pfaff (Tandem Press) rub elbows with prints by Rembrandt, Picasso and Hiroshige. Dealers of historical prints from around the world save some of their best offerings for the Print Fair, heavily attended by curators on the hunt.

The IFPDA Print Fair is open Friday and Saturday from noon to 8 P.M., and Sunday from noon to 6. Throughout the city, museums and galleries are mounting shows and events to coincide with the fair. For a listing, visit the organization's web site at printfair.com.