Gemini G.E.L., the Los Angeles print publishers whose workshop helped ignite the print boom of the '60s, has given its archives to the National Gallery of Art.
There are about 1,000 prints by contemporary masters in the Gemini donation, which the Gallery announced yesterday. Equally significant are the one-of-a-kind materials -- trial proofs and sketches, photographs and documents -- that will accompany the prints. The multimillion-dollar gift -- from the owners of the workshop and the painters who have worked there -- significantly broadens the gallery's collection of contemporary art.
The first installment of Gemini's gift includes 33 works by Jasper Johns, 37 by Robert Rauschenberg, 15 Frank Stellas, 17 David Hockneys, 22 Claes Oldenburgs, a like number of Roy Lichtensteins and 200 other works by such well-known artists as Edward Kienholz, Philip Guston, Sam Francis and Man Ray. And this is just one-quarter of the gift that's been pledged.
The 256 multiples and prints in Gemini's initial gift have a combined market value of about $1 million. But because they're in a group, and because many are accompanied by workshop records, proofs, preliminary studies and similar material, "their true worth," says J. Carter Brown, the gallery's director, "is considerably more."
"An archive of this sort is just the sort of resource art historians dream of," says Andrew Robison, the gallery's curator of prints and drawings. A print can tell a scholar much. But if it is accompanied, as are the works from Gemini, by shop records and color proofs, by receipts and working drawings that show how it was made, it can, or course, tell more.
Gemini, which was founded in Los Angeles in January 1966 by Sidney Felsen, Stanley Grinstein and Ken Tyler, is generally regarded as one of the two most important American publishers of prints. The other is University Limited Art Editions of Long Island. Robison, who courted Gemini for years, had hoped to bring to Washington the archives of both workshops. But U.L.A.E.'s rich archive is reportedly destined for the market.
Other art museums, and of course those in Los Angeles, would have gladly welcomed the Gemini donation. "But the National Gallery has a scholarly, archival feeling," says Gemini's Felsen, "and that's one of the reasons we've sent our archives there. They're thinking not only about today and tomorrow. They're equally concerned with 50 or a hundred years from now."
"Gemini," says Robison, "has published 135 Rauschenbergs, and more than 100 works by Johns. Both artists are demanding. Johns will change a shade of gray more than a dozen times until he gets it right. Because we have his trial proofs, we can compare the tone he picked with those that he rejected. When Rauschenberg decides to incorporate, say, bottle tops in a multiple, he will stipulate the precise brand of beer, or the flavor of the Nehi pop, that he wants to use. And because he's sort of playful, he is likely to insist that the printers drink the contents of the bottles that he has requisitioned. Sometimes he will transfer onto silk chiffon images he likes from the Sunday comics. He'll order, say, 137 copies of last weekend's funnies, and a buy order to that effect will end up in the archives. The files we've received are full of fascinating stuff."
Not all the prints from Gemini given to the gallery are silkscreens, woodcuts, monotypes, lithographs or etchings. Some are made of metal, some of cardboard or of plastic. Among the objects that the gallery has received are a U.S. map by Johns that's made of dull gray lead, fabric works by Rauschenberg and a large "soft screw" of flexible black rubber that was designed by Claes Oldenburg.
Yesterday's announcement of the Gemini donation was timed to coincide with the opening of "Contemporary American Prints and Drawings," an exhibit of 100 works drawn from the permanent collection. They "show how far we've come," says Robison. "The Gemini archive [whose objects may be seen, by appointment only, in the gallery's new print rooms] shows where we are going."
The pictures in "Contemporary American Prints and Drawings" are mostly works on paper. The show, which surveys the period 1940-1980, opens with a large Arshile Gorky drawing and closes with a silkscreen print by Washington's Gene Davis completed just last year.
The exhibit fills six galleries. Two sorts of American abstraction of the 1940s and the 1950s -- the biomorphic kind explored by Gorky, de Kooning and Stanley William Hayter, and the cooler kind preferred by Albers and Barnett Newman -- are on view in the first. Various modes of figuration, and works by Ben Shahn, Leonard Baskin, Nathan Oliviera and Andrew Wyeth, are on view in the second. The third includes gestural abstractions by such artists as Motherwell, Frankenthaler, and Washington's Jacob Kainen. The forth room is a two-man show of Rauschenberg and Johns. Both artists, it is clear, were nicely represented in the gallery's collection before Gemini's gift came through. There is pop art in the fifth room; four Maos by Andy Warhol, works by Jim Dine and Oldenburg, and a pair of photo-realist prints by Robert Cottingham and Richard Estes are on exhibit here. The final gallery deals with recent geometric abstraction. A splendid drawing on graph paper made by Larry Poons in 1962, and works by Martin, Kelly, Stella, and a fine, though lesser-known, ink drawing by Elinor Roberts are on exhibit here. This show, which goes on public view today, will close on July 19. The 1,000-item Gemini archive will be the subject of another show when the transfer is completed, perhaps in 1984.