Making Old Friends

This is a guest post by Phil Sanders, director of the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop. Phil recently visited London for Christie’s Multiplied: Contemporary Art in Editions Fair, where he manned a booth on behalf of Blackburn and Forth Estate. Here, he offers the exhibitor’s perspective on the print fair experience.

Just back from, Multiplied: Contemporary Art In Editions Fair, hosted by Christie’s London. In this, the fair’s third year, Christie’s hosted more than 40 dealers from Europe and North America. This was Blackburn’s second year as an exhibitor (or, the less glamorous term, vendor), and this time we teamed up with Forth Estate to give London a little taste of NYC.

Art fairs, love ‘em or hate ‘em, are a major way those of us on the sales side of the art world find those of you on the buying and production side. Fortunately, when talking about prints, we are talking about art that can withstand the pressure of high paced art exhibitions. (OK, that was the last pun, I promise.) A print fair has a different feeling to it than some of the larger general art fairs such as FriezeBasel, or The Armory. Nothing against the larger productions of the other fairs, I love that stuff, but as Multiplied Founder and Director Murray Macaulay puts it: Multiplied showcases art you can buy, art you can live with.

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From the outside, the art fair process can seem mechanical and visually overwhelming with its temporary walls, tablecloths, and bleary-eyed dealers. It is hard to take in that much art at a single viewing. From a vendor’s perspective it is a mad dash. We arrive with little time to collect our crates, hang the art, and splash enough cold water on our faces to cover the jet lag for opening night. It is always a crapshoot to decide which works to bring and where to place them. As a publisher we have spent a great deal of time and money producing the works with our artists, and we care deeply about them all. Fairs can make you pick between your children, in the hope of launching them into the wider world. And then it is all over, in just as much of a rush as it began, with the work shipping out to the next exhibition in another part of the world.

Julian Page Fine Art sets up

Dundee Contemporary Arts sets up

We participated in Multiplied for the purpose of introducing the artists we publish to a new audience and letting European printmakers know that they have a home away from home in NYC at RBPMW. It is our way of using the democratic nature of the print to speed up the spread of each artist’s ideas to as many people as possible. Throughout history artists have become well-known through their prints before they become known for their paintings or sculptures. And, building upon this tradition, a print fair can do much for art and artists. Publishers have a responsibility to maintain the health of the contemporary art market and it is a responsibility that we take seriously. I have yet to meet a publisher who did not wish they could work with more artists. It usually just comes down to time and money, and I have never met a dealer who had enough of either.

The Robert Blackburn/Forth Estate booth

Selling work and meeting new clients and artists is a big part of the fair, but for dealers it is also the time we get to see one another. Like a sailor’s gam, visiting each other’s booths is our time to find out what’s happening in different workshops from a technical, supply, and sales point of view. Not to mention, time to catch up on good old-fashioned gossip.

shop talk

opening night

In some ways, representing a workshop at a fair is promoting your frontier outpost. We extol its virtues and swap horror stories. At the end of the day we have all been through the highs and lows of spending our hours talking to strangers. This shared experience makes old friends of us fast. Professional printers don’t often get together, and Multiplied is one place where we can see in person what technical feats our peers have pulled off across the pond. In short, the behind the scenes of Multiplied is an international printshop cocktail: two parts amazing prints, two parts technical wizardry, one part chaos, a splash of art speak, and a twist of plate wiping, stone rolling, and squeegee pulling hand gestures served in a chilled tumbler of art enthusiasts. Quite the cocktail. I’ll have another, sooner rather than later: New York Print Week begins October 31st with the IFPDA and E|AB print fairs.


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One Response to “Making Old Friends”

  1. Tammy Mackay says:

    Was lucky enough to see Multiplied, as i live in London. Thank you Phil for your write up. It’s interesting to read about it from the exhibitor perspective. I so enjoyed your stand – the friendliness and the work. Really taken by the monoprints made with watercolour. Will be trying that out on my printing press too! Thank you. Tammy