The Arts Voyager, 3-7: Category Busters
From Durer to Warhol, Christies Print Sale offers rare portal to 500 years of art history
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Text copyright 2012 Paul Ben-Itzak
The trap that many museums fall into is constraining categorization which often makes it hard to follow artistic through-lines at one sole institution. Believing that Paris's Louvre, Orsay, and Pompidou (or Beauborg as the locals still refer to it) museums cleanly divided into pre-Impressionism, Impressionist era, and Modern art, respectively, I assumed I'd seen all the Corots Paris had to offer at the Orsay, until I discovered a whole room devoted to the pre-Impressionist plein air pioneer in a hidden corner of the Louvre (with, confusingly, masterpieces created much later than those on view at the Orsay, notably his 1874 "Woman in Blue"). Meanwhile, if the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth has reason to boast of the most focused collection in that field likely to be found in America, its recent acquisition of 'Woman Standing, Holding a Fan" (1878-79) by Mary Cassatt, an American ex-pat usually lumped in with the Impressionists, suffers by the fact that visitors have to take the museum's word for it in the painting's wall text that Cassatt worked with Degas in experimenting with distemper. Putting a Degas up next to her would have added vital context, but -- helas -- no foreigners allowed at the Amon Carter!
The auction house Christie's London seems to have come up with a much more coherent curatorial schemata. The works for sale in its London Prints Sale March 28, announced yesterday, are only constrained by one criterium: They're all prints. That there are no restrictions as to epoch or ethnicity allows the art lover to follow the scope of the medium's development over a 500 year span, from Albrecht Durer's 1501 engraving "Saint Eustace" to Andy Warhol's devastating circa 1978 screenprint "Electric Chair," with a healthy dose of Max Beckmann and contemporary Brucke artists like Ernst Ludwig Kirchner in between. And in case you're still operating under the misconception that you have to be a high-ticket player to bid on work like this, while Kirchner's 1911 "Englische Steptanzerinnen" will likely fetch a lot -- an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 pounds, the highest of any item in this sale -- other work is estimated at as low as 1,000 pounds.