National Gallery gets an impressive collection of US printmaking
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National Gallery gets an impressive collection of US printmaking

The Kenneth Tyler Collection. National Gallery of Australia. nga.gov.au/internationalprints/tyler/artists/default.cfm.

Helen Frankenthaler, <i>Madame Butterfly</i>, 2000. Purchased with the assistance of the Orde Poynon Fund.

Helen Frankenthaler, Madame Butterfly, 2000. Purchased with the assistance of the Orde Poynon Fund.

Although the inaugural director of the National Gallery of Australia, James Mollison, will invariably be linked in the popular imagination with spectacular singular purchases, such as Jackson Pollock’s Blue poles, Willem de Kooning’s Woman V and Kazimir Malevich’s House under construction, a more important and lasting legacy lay with the establishment of the major heritage collections.

He encouraged his friend Gordon Darling to develop an interest in Australian printmaking. Darling subsequently established a generous bequest that has funded the most comprehensive collection of Australian prints in the world, accompanied by an online database, major publications and trained interns.

In 1973, Mollison acquired a collection of about 600 prints, proofs and drawings made from 1966 to 1973 at the Ken Tyler print workshops on the West Coast of the US. This collection was subsequently built upon, most notably in 2002, where under director Brian Kennedy a further 4000 items were acquired. This makes it one of the most comprehensive and expensive collections of American printmaking anywhere outside the US. Today the collection stands at about 7400 items – many of which are unique, archival and of considerable cultural significance. There are also rich collections of film, candid photography, printing elements and documentation.

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Marabeth Cohen-Tyler, left and Kenneth Tyler sitting in the Tyler Graphics Ltd barber chair, February 1993 (detail). Gift of Kenneth Tyler 2002.

Marabeth Cohen-Tyler, left and Kenneth Tyler sitting in the Tyler Graphics Ltd barber chair, February 1993 (detail). Gift of Kenneth Tyler 2002.Credit:Jim McHugh

This collection at the gallery has become a wonderful record of the extraordinary story of artist/printer collaborations in post-war America. A glance at the names of some of the major artists in this collection includes Josef Albers, Anthony Caro, Sam Francis, Helen Frankenthaler, David Hockney, Ellsworth Kelly, RB Kitaj, Roy Lichtenstein, Joan Mitchell, Robert Motherwell, Bruce Nauman, Kenneth Noland, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, Edward Ruscha, Richard Serra, Frank Stella and Andy Warhol.

Tyler is a genius printer who also possesses an entrepreneurial gift. With a simple philosophy that it takes great artists to make great art, he approached and seduced some of the biggest names in American art to make prints with him. His main vehicle of seduction was his pronouncement – “yes, it can be done” – no matter how impractical or megalomania-prone the request from the artist. In the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, under Tyler, American prints grew dramatically in size, in the variety of materials employed, and in price. The humble print changed from a popular democratic medium, accessible to anyone who could afford to rent an apartment in which to hang it, to a cultural artefact requiring a major space for display – as well as a major budget.

Tyler, through an act of immense generosity, created for the National Gallery of Australia a bequest that has funded Tyler Print Fellowships and Tyler Print Internships for 10 years. He wanted to create a living collection with research, exhibitions and publications.

Frank Stella, <i>The Fountain</i> detail, 1992. Gift of Kenneth Tyler 2002.

Frank Stella, The Fountain detail, 1992. Gift of Kenneth Tyler 2002.Credit:Marabeth Cohen-Tyler

Now that a decade has passed, Tyler, accompanied by his wife Marabeth on a recent visit to Canberra, announced that he has created The Kenneth E Tyler AO and Marabeth Cohen-Tyler Foundation in the US, through the auspices of the NGA’s American Friends, with a new, very generous 10-year plan to fund dedicated publications, exhibitions and the development of the Tyler website and social media, curatorial staff positions and support, research and access to the collection.

Tyler’s profound generosity of spirit makes the Tyler Collection at the National Gallery of Australia a major national treasure that is accessible to anyone around the world through a click of the mouse.

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