The exhibition Print Works: The Douglas Kagi Donation celebrates the gift to the Gallery of a major collection of more than 350 prints by British, American and European artists. Dr Kagi’s gift, which comprises prints by fifty-five artists created between 1960 and 2000, will transform the Gallery’s holdings of international prints from the second half of the twentieth century. While the donation will enable many different exhibitions and collection displays to be mounted into the future, the works included in this first exhibition, Print Works, have been selected to survey the broad scope of the Kagi donation and to sample some of its highlights.
In the post-1960s period printmaking entered a dynamic phase during which numerous new workshops were established and publishers played a greater role in commissioning artists to make prints. Encouraged to work with master printers, many painters and sculptors developed a passion for the medium, and their collaborative efforts often led to exciting experimentation in the field. Prints increased in scale, ambition and complexity, with many traditional techniques transformed as artists and printers pursued innovative means to express artists’ ideas. These developments are reflected in Dr Kagi’s gift, which represents many of the major print publishers of the postwar period, particularly those based in Britain, as well as the innovative prints of artists including Frank Stella, Howard Hodgkin, Richard Hamilton and Joe Tilson.
The Kagi collection is particularly strong in its representation of British Pop prints of the 1960s and 1970s, and includes large groups of work by artists such as Eduardo Paolozzi, Tilson, Tom Phillips and R. B. Kitaj. The Pop generation’s interest in the consumerism and high-tech nature of mass urban culture made the technological processes of printmaking particularly appropriate for their art practice. Drawing subject matter from popular culture – advertising, magazines, television and movies – they employed the latest technologies, including photographic and commercial processes, to critique the circulation of information in the mass-media industry. Collaborating with the brilliant master printer Chris Prater, of Kelpra Studio in London, these artists transformed the commercial screenprint process into a dynamic graphic art form that attained extraordinary currency from the early 1960s. Prater’s phenomenal skill in hand-cutting stencils and photographically transferring images onto the screen enabled the collaged pop-culture compositions of Paolozzi, Tilson, Kitaj and others to be rendered into highly coloured seamless images that reflected the visual culture of contemporary urban life.
While some artists are represented in the Kagi collection by multiple works, others are represented by one or two prints, or a single series. In scope the collection represents a broad cross-section of postwar British artists of different generations and artistic persuasions, including Frank Auerbach, Graham Sutherland, Lynn Chadwick, Gordon House, Gerald Laing, Peter Blake, David Hockney, Michael Craig-Martin and others. The strength of the British holdings reflects the manner in which Dr Kagi has assembled his collection. In 2002 he acquired, rather unusually for a private collector, a substantial part of the archive of one of the most significant British print publishers of the postwar period, Waddington Graphics. Established in London in 1968 by Leslie Waddington, this publishing house began by focusing on contemporary British artists, and published projects by Tilson, Hamilton, Hodgkin, Patrick Caulfield, Phillips, Craig-Martin and many others. This archive formed the nucleus of Dr Kagi’s collection, which he subsequently expanded by acquiring prints from other British publishers, including Marlborough Graphics, Editions Alecto, Flowers Graphics and Alan Cristea. By working in this way, the Kagi collection has attained a comprehensiveness that is unusual in the private domain.
The global outlook of many of these British print publishers in the past decades has brought the work of American and European artists into the orbit of Dr Kagi’s collection. Although Waddington started by focusing on British artists, by 1972, when Cristea joined the business, the publisher began working with a broader stable of international artists. Waddington went on to publish prints by Stella, Donald Sultan, David Salle and Paladino, to name just a few. Significant prints by each of these artists are included in the Kagi donation, with Paladino represented by several major print series from the 1980s and 1990s. Waddington did not have its own printing facilities, but rather worked with different printers – Kelpra Studio in London, Aldo Crommelynck in Paris, Grafica Uno in Milan, and others – to provide the specialist technical expertise each print project required. The complexity that some projects entailed is epitomised by the prints Stella published with Waddington Graphics in the 1980s, two of which are in the collection and are shown in Print Works. Related to the artist’s painted and metal reliefs of the period, these large, vibrant collaged works combine elements printed in three different techniques at separate workshops (screenprint, lithography and linocut) with hand-marbled papers and hand-colouring.
Another publisher of diverse yet extremely interesting prints that has been favoured by Dr Kagi is the Barcelona-based Ediciones Polígrafa. From 1961 this commercial printing firm began publishing art books, then prints, and has worked with leading artists from around the world. Artists they have produced editions with and who are represented in the Kagi collection include Jannis Kounnellis, Hans Hartung, Antoni Tàpies and Kenneth Noland (all of whom are included in the exhibition), as well as Markus Lüpertz, José Cuevas, Tony Oursler and Ed Ruscha. Many of these artists have hitherto been unrepresented in the NGV Collection.
The Kagi donation is the most significant and transformative addition to the NGV’s international print collection in several decades. Its acquisition will substantially enrich the Gallery’s holdings and enable us to extend the reach of the collection to better represent the development of printmaking in the second half of the twentieth century. Dr Kagi’s great passion for prints and generous support of the institution is celebrated in Print Works: The Douglas Kagi Donation.