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40 Years of Print Club gifts


Salvator Rosa (Italian, 1615 – 1673), “Alexander and Diogenes,” 1661, etching and drypoint on paper. Sheet: 18 × 10 15/16 in. (45.7 × 27.8 cm.) Image: 17 7/8 × 10 5/8 in. (45.4 × 27 cm.). Des Moines Art Center Permanent Collections; Gift of the Des Moines Art Center Print Club, 1982.13. Photo credit: Rich Sanders

Forty years ago, a few art lovers got together to create a Print Club. Modeled on similar clubs attached to major art museums in Cleveland and Philadelphia, the club would collect 481 prints and give 76 prints, photos and drawings to the Des Moines Art Center. In the year of the virus, the art center and the Print Club arranged a virtual exhibition of those 76 pieces plus 22 others conserved with funds donated by the Print Club.

The 76 Gift and Commissioned Prints are displayed in chronological order of their creation. The tour can be accessed from links on the Des Moines Art Center’s web page. Clicking on each print, one can find excellent notes about the works. The club’s contributions have been a marvelous addition to the Art Center’s collection. Many of the most educational exhibitions shown the last 40 years have been print shows. Beginning in 1982, Print Club has made annual gifts of works of art to the Permanent Collections, ranging from early 16th-century to contemporary prints. With the director and curators, Print Club researches prints for consideration. Some years, the focus is on finding works that fill a gap in the Art Center’s holdings of a particular time period, printmaking technique, historic style, or individual artist. The Club prepares an educational presentation about the proposed prints and then, at an annual meeting, members vote to select one or more of the prints to donate.

Since the 10th anniversary year, Print Club has commissioned 27 contemporary artists to create prints in editions of 50 to 60 prints. Members have priority before sales are open to the public. Proceeds from the sales support the purchase of Gift Prints, conservation of prints, print exhibitions, and related publications. Available prints can be purchased in The Shop at the Art Center.

Nationally and internationally known artists including Glenn Brown, Cecily Brown, Enrique Chagoya, Jun Kaneko, Phyllida Barlow, Ann Hamilton, Martin Puryear, and Jaume Plensa have designed prints exclusively for Print Club. Editions have been printed in New York; Venice, Italy; London, England: and Madrid and Barcelona, Spain. To date, Print Club has commissioned lithography, intaglio, relief, screen printing, and digital processes.

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To illustrate the historic and educational range of the collection, we picked a few of our favorites from the virtual exhibition. Salvator Rosa’s “Alexander and Diogenes” was the club’s first gift to the museum. It features Alexander the Great meeting with the strange philosopher who lived in a barrel. It is reported that Alexander said, if he were not Alexander, he would like to be Diogenes. James Tissot was one of the few 19th-century artists to use mezzotint as an original printmaking medium. Invented in the 17th century, mezzotint gained popularity among reproductive printmakers because it was ideal for copying the darks and lights of oil paintings. In “Le Matin,” the entire plate is roughened with a toothed tool that is rocked over the plate. The artist then uses a burnishing tool and scraper to work highlights back into the dark areas, capturing a maid’s backlit diaphanous dress and the glint of light on silver, china and glass.

Byron Burford was a University of Iowa art professor who influenced two generations of students. His work was happiest when focused on the circus, much like Federico Fellini’s films. In “Lynne Marie,” he allows us to visit a vanished American culture. Enrique Chagoya’s “Liberty Backwards” mixes a cartoon character with a postcard of a hanging, disturbing and disturbingly moving.

The exhibition can be found at Des Moines Art Center Print Club Gifts: Celebrating 40 Years | selected works | art.spaces | KUNSTMATRIX. ♦

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