Here’s a surprise: The Metropolitan Museum of Art has been in the business of selling art almost as long as it has been in the business of collecting, studying, conserving, and presenting it.
To help fulfill a mandate in The Met’s 1870 Charter toward “encouraging and developing the study of the fine arts,” the Museum’s earliest directors commissioned reproductions of the first European paintings in its collection from the master Paris engraver Jules-Fernand Jacquemart. These expert prints were offered to Museum subscribers for $25, a remarkable sum for those times—and at one of the Museum’s first locations, the Douglas Mansion on West 14th Street, the reproductions were even offered for sale in the very galleries in which the original paintings hung.
The Met’s tradition of fine prints took a new turn in 1970, when the Museum celebrated its centennial with commemorative limited-edition prints by Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, and Joseph Albers. The end of that decade saw the opening of the refurbished, multi-level Met Store that visitors know today—and the launch of the Mezzanine Gallery.
Starting with its first editions (of Reclining Woman by Giacomo Manzù, and Woodland Plant by Ellsworth Kelly), the Mezzanine Gallery established a tradition of working with renowned artists for its own publishing program, reserved for artists whose work is represented in The Met collection. Alex Katz, David Hockney, Robert Indiana, and many other artists have been invited to print with the Gallery for editioning projects—totaling some 80 prints and over 50 contemporary artists since its founding.
The space approaches its fifth decade under the new leadership of Laura G. Einstein, who follows in the footsteps of founder Daniel Berger and longtime manager Michael Hladky. “What I find most extraordinary about the Mezzanine Gallery,” Einstein says, “is that the provenance is direct. For example, we receive works of art from the artist, the master printer, the gallery that represents the artist, and the estate of the artist.”
With prints ranging in price from three to six figures; with represented artists including Picasso, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Richard Serra, Faith Ringgold, Melissa Meyer, and more; and with revenue from all sales supporting the Museum’s operations, this niche gallery offers wide appeal to connoisseurs and collectors. “The inherent democratic nature of printmaking and its more affordable pricing structure make this retail operation a successful enterprise,” says Einstein. “I am grateful to be here at The Met, supporting the Museum in its belief that offering prints at reasonable prices encourages people to become potential collectors and eventual supporters of the institution.”
No surprise there.