Encompassing more than eight thousand works, the collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and his Family Foundation are the realization of the singular passion and dedication of Jordan Schnitzer and now comprises what is probably the largest and most comprehensive assemblage of contemporary prints and multiples in private hands. For more than twenty-five years, Jordan has been collecting ambitiously in this field, creating a repository of editions by a wide-ranging survey of postwar artists as well as comprehensive holdings of the works of several notable artists. Remarkably, Jordan has also made his Foundation’s collections accessible through a lending program that enables his prints and multiples to reach smaller museums, universities, and cultural institutions, allowing the collection to expand beyond its walls to find audiences that might otherwise have little access to contemporary art.
This special collector’s exhibition at Sotheby’s salutes Jordan’s steadfast commitment to a field often prematurely abandoned by seasoned collectors, and celebrates both his unparalleled collections and his numerous contributions as a publisher and philanthropist. The exhibition focuses on highlights from the collections, and showcases both historic works from the 1960s to the 1980s as well as newer pieces coming directly from publishers and from artists’ studios over the past twenty years. The collections demonstrate the diversity of the medium and the ongoing continuation of the printmaking tradition by the great artists of our time.
Printmaking is a labor-intensive process and is less intuitive of a practice than painting, drawing, and sculpture. Whether executed through silkscreen, lithography, etching, mezzotint, or a range of other contemporary options, the process involves the collaborative support of master printers who, like members of a guild, are highly specialized in technique and craft. Many artists make prints through the initiative of publishers but very few become masters of the medium. This sentiment of challenge, frustration, and even failure is a current running through many great works in the collection, especially by the artists most dedicated to the medium. Chuck Close is certainly among the artists challenged by the inherent risk and arduous process of printmaking, as is evidenced in the failed mezzotint registration used to great effect in Keith (1972; page 9). Perhaps no contemporary artist has embraced printmaking and its associated struggle as much as Jasper Johns. Johns utilizes printmaking as the ultimate arsenal for his ideas, and to create prints that connect directly to his other works of art. Even the notion of executing a working in reverse—an obstacle in itself—is subtly quoted in Johns’s celebrated Color Numeral Series: Figure 7 (1969; pages 10–11), where the mirror image of the ruler makes the device useless for measurement. Less subtly, it can also be seen in Bruce Nauman’s Pay Attention (1973; page 9), where the defiant declaration of a text with its letters in reverse, a clear nod to printmaking, is left to the audience to decipher. Printmaking is a challenge, but also an irresistible struggle that draws an artist in and inspires what is possible.
Untitled (Girlfriend), 2013
Pigment print on stretched canvas
Untitled (Girlfriend), one of the most recent publications acquired by the foundation, is a composite image of 58 different stereotypical women who played the revolving door of Jerry Seinfeld's girlfriends during the run of the comedian's highly successful eponymous sitcom. Merging all of the images into one, the artist has formally created a collage of the collective male gaze.
Among the many opportunities and rewards present in collection prints, one aspect particularly prized by Jordan Schnitzer is the opportunity to go back in time to isolate great historic works within an artist’s oeuvre, a possibility diminishing in other fields of collection. Seminal pieces such as Andy Warhol’s Marilyn (Marilyn Monroe) portfolio (1967; page 14) and Ed Ruscha’s Gas (1962; page 15), the precursor to all of the artist’s gasoline station works, are at the core of this collection.
Double Poke in the Eye II, 1985
Neon tubing and supports mounted on aluminum panel
This neon sculpture published in the mid-eighties to benefit the New Museum is one of Nauman's most ambitious editioned works, featuring a confrontation of two dueling faces with a program of different flashing sequences of primary and secondary colors creating a kinetic effect.
From its inception, the Foundation sought to build strong holdings in the field of contemporary prints and multiples, and it has been fortunate to assemble an encyclopedic collection of postwar highlights, but to also build deep, comprehensive collections of the work of such key artists as Andy Warhol (with the largest holdings outside of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh), John Baldessari, Ellsworth Kelly, and Bruce Nauman. From the trove of Ellsworth Kelly material, this exhibition features intact impressions of Suite of Twenty-Seven Color Lithographs (1964–65; page 12), a rare series of lithographs in an ambitious format that showcases the artist’s exploration of color and form and marks the transition of printmaking from its European roots to a new burgeoning tradition in America.
I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art, 1971
Lithograph printed on Arches paper
I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art is Baldessari's first print and perhaps most celebrated declaration. Made after a performance-based exhibition at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, this print has spawned additional editions by the artist, including wallpaper and a scarf, and has had a great influence on many other artists.
With the surge of interest among contemporary artists in making prints in the past two decades, the Foundation has acquired great examples at the time of publication. When Robert Gober, a dedicated printmaker, was selected to represent the United States in the 49th Venice Biennale, he chose to include three intaglio prints alongside his sculpture as his contribution to the pavilion. Each of the three works, similarly titled Untitled (2000-2001; page 18), employs unorthodox means of creating hand creases, tears, and discoloration to create what appear to be a section from the New York Times, The New Yorker, and a personal ad. Another stellar example, Louis Bourgeois’s The Guilty Girl Is Fragile (2000; page 16), is a lithograph printed on the artist’s undergarment, reconstituting her slip into a highly personally charged work of art.
Set of ten woodcuts printed on Japanese paper
It is extremely rare to find all three color variations, cadmium red light, ultramarine blue and ivory black, of this important and beautiful set of ten woodcuts by Donald Judd, showing five pairs of images and their inversion, from 1988.
Innovation is at the forefront of printmaking, and artists are constantly mixing materials, using alternative techniques, and embracing new technology, as in Claes Oldenburg’s Profile Airflow–Test Mold Front End (1972; page 2), a work made of cast polyurethane molded over a framed lithograph. Artists today likewise blur the line between media and call into question the nature of printmaking itself, as in Ellen Gallagher’s tour de force DeLuxe (2004–2005; page 19), and the Kenyan artist Wangechi Mutu’s use of a variety of mixed media and
collage elements in her print portfolio Histology of the Different Classes of Uterine Tumors (2006; page 20).
$1.57 Giant Size, 1963
Silkscreen printed on coated record cover
Thought to be Andy Warhol's first published silk-screen project, these record covers feature Pop imagery which echoes the contemporaneous Brillo Boxes. An edition of seventy-five as opposed to the two hundred and fifty that would become standard for Warhol's works, these prints also predate the artist's standardization of color in his work and so comprise unique color variants.
It has been an honor and a privilege to be able to work with Jordan Schnitzer over the years, as well as a delightful experience, and I would like to thank him for entrusting me with helping to build his staggering collection. I would also like to recognize his professional staff, Catherine Malone and Tracy Savage Mollenholt, who work with insight and grace to carry out the mission of the Foundation. With special thanks to Molly Steiger and Mary Bartow, my former colleagues, I am deeply appreciative to Sotheby’s for providing this exceptional platform and for acknowledging the unprecedented contribution that Jordan Schnitzer has made to the print community and the public at large. And lastly, I would like to recognize all the inspired curators who come to the Foundation to borrow the prints and multiples and whose work brings this great collection to life.