The Power of Prints: The Legacy of William M. Ivins and A. Hyatt Mayor

Rembrandt van Rijn. The Three Trees, 1643. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929

January 26–May 22, 2016

Exhibition Location: The Charles Z. Offin Gallery, Karen B. Cohen Gallery, Harriette and Noel Levine Gallery, 2nd floor, Galleries 691-693

Prints “throw open to their student with the most complete abandon the whole gamut of human life and endeavor, from the most ephemeral of courtesies to the loftiest pictorial presentation of man’s spiritual aspirations,” declared William M. Ivins (1881-1961), founding curator of the Metropolitan Museum’s Department of Prints, soon after assuming that position in 1916. The Power of Prints commemorates the centennial of the department by celebrating the astounding legacy of Ivins, and his protégé A. Hyatt Mayor (1901-1980). By drawing on the department’s own vast holdings, the exhibition and its accompanying catalogue reveal how, from the very beginning, Ivins and Mayor artfully composed the print collection to be like a library—a corpus of works (not all distinctly masterful) that describes in the most comprehensive way humanity’s aspirations. 

The exhibition is made possible by The Schiff Foundation.

The Power of Prints
Francisco de Goya y Lucientes. A Giant Seated in a Landscape, sometimes called 'The Colossus,' by 1818. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1935

Brilliantly mixing the exceptional and the everyday, Ivins and Mayor amassed a collection of hundreds of thousands of prints that is both encyclopedic in its scope and studied in its many areas of focus. Ivins’ and Mayor’s prescient understanding of the value of printed works across a wide spectrum, and the intellectual framework from which their collecting practice arose, transformed the field of prints by broadening its purview beyond aesthetic, formal, and technical aspects and by asking new questions about the function of works of art, their historical and cultural context, and their active role as both containers and purveyors of information.

The story of this great American collection will be told through prints by Andrea Mantegna, Albrecht Dürer, Marcantonio Raimondi, Jacques Callot, Rembrandt van Rijn, Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, Honoré Daumier, James McNeill Whistler, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Mary Cassatt, Edward Penfield, and Edward Hopper—just a few of the artists whose works will be on display. 

The Power of Prints will also explore how the evolution of curatorial priorities affected the assembling of the Department’s remarkable collection of etchings and engravings. And just as Ivins and Mayor did, the exhibition will consider printed matter as the entrée to the information age, recognizing prints as functional objects that spread information to an ever-expanding audience and reflect a changing society. In the age of digital photography and the Internet, the power of prints, or the ability to disseminate images in identical form to a mass market, has special relevance to how people see, understand, and engage with works of art.

The Power of Prints
Mary Cassatt. The Letter, 1890-91. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Paul J. Sachs, 1916

The Power of Prints is organized by Freyda Spira, Associate Curator in the Metropolitan Museum’s Department of Drawings and Prints.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue written by Freyda Spira with Peter Parshall, former head of the department of old master prints at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. The catalogue will be published by the 
Metropolitan Museum and will explore the lives and careers of Ivins and Mayor and their informed and assiduous acquisition of prints, photographs, and illustrated books for the Metropolitan Museum. The catalogue entries about the objects will also incorporate Ivins’ and Mayor’s own innovative notes on prints. 

The catalogue is made possible by the Drue E. Heinz Fund.

Education programs will include exhibition tours; a Friday Focus lecture on January 29; a MetFridays Gallery Event on February 19 during which visitors can enjoy interactive gallery chats, art making, and a Drop-in Drawing class:  a three-session Studio Workshop focusing on drypoint and lithography; a Met Escapes for visitors with dementia and their care partners on February 24; a Sunday at the Met program on April 3; and a Seeing Through Drawing for adults who are blind or partially sighted on May 14.

Additional information about the exhibition and its accompanying programs will be available on the Museum’s website, as well as on FacebookInstagram and Twitter using the hashtag #PowerofPrints.



Download The Tretyakov Gallery Magazine in App StoreDownload The Tretyakov Gallery Magazine in Google play