*aka The Metropolitan Museum of Art (google “new Met logo”):
“The Power of Prints: The Legacy of William M. Ivins and A. Hyatt Mayor”; through May 22.
Print shows per se are most often geared towards specialists/special interests within the niche. This one, though, stands out as an engaging, star-studded chronological survey, from early modern image printing to the turn of the 20th century, through choice examples from the Met collection. (Ivins and Mayor have been the leading curators in establishing the range and caliber of the Met’s cache.)
In one of my favorite exhibition spaces at the museum for its manageable scale and tripartite symmetry (second floor off the corridor to 19th c. European painting and sculpture), the central portion features a large-scale vitrine in which (mainly) early illustrated books, strategically propped open, are displayed. Both incunabula (early printed material, largely from Gutenberg-renowned German territory) and full-fledged Renaissance publications are well represented, collectively exemplifying progressive mis-en-page ingenuity and letterform and illustration diversity–mainly wood cuts for the images, some with hand flourishes. Note, among the various then modern studies on classical arts and the natural science studies an early edition of Vesalius’s “anatomy,” and Durer’s “Four Measurements” treatise, in which his ubiquitous image of a draftsman peering through a gridded frame at a nude female subject first appeared. Durer also stands out on the walls; it’s a forgotten treat to view his engravings closely–known ubiquitously through all manner of reproduction for centuries. Big-name Italians, like Mantegna, will also be noted while perusing the abundant Renaissance array.
The flanking galleries give an orderly overview of 17th, 18th century, and 19th century developments. Etching mastery is illuminated (literally) by the inclusion of several states of a Rembrandt Crucifixion. Selections from Goya’s “Disasters of War” bring to mind (among many other things) the impact of the increasing distribution of images that facilitated print culture in the first place. That concept, in an aesthetic vein, is at issue in the reproductive transformation of paintings into prints, sometimes done or directed by the painter but often by other art or publishing entrepreneurs, increasingly prevalent through the period covered. Chemical experimentation is prominent in a washy, sepia-toned interior by Whistler and color works by Cassatt. Daumier’s sketchy lithographs usher in the journalistic potential of that medium, while its artistic potential culminates in nouveau color posters by Toulouse-Lautrec and others here. Overall: a feast of technique, form, and iconography, which also conveys the populus-conscious, metaphoric matrix of printmaking.