Local gallery's goal is to make Picasso more 'affordable': Prints from Modern Masters can fetch up to $30,000

September 11, 2006

Chris Mallon carefully removed a protective cover to unveil an original print of the Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup label famously depicted by artist Andy Warhol.

The piece, known as a silk-screen print, is available at Mallon's Editions Limited Gallery of Fine Art in Broad Ripple, unframed, for a mere $23,000. So is Marc Chagall's "Violinist With A Rooster" lithograph that sells for $14,200.

While the prices might seem excessive to some, they're quite affordable when compared to actual paintings done by the most prolific artists of the 20th century who embody the Modern Masters era.

"That's my goal," Mallon said, "to offer to the public pieces that have a solid provenance at a reasonable and fair price."

Mallon's gallery traditionally has featured the works of living, contemporary artists. But she is expanding her reach to include collections from prized painters such as Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro and Salvador Dali, as well as Warhol and Chagall. Only the pieces are prints-normally lithographs, silk-screens and etchings-instead of paintings.

Even so, they are still highly sought after, said Jean Robertson, an associate professor of art history at the Herron School of Art and Design. The school offers courses on the various ways to make prints.

"An art print is a valuable work of art," she said. "Even though they might be expensive to you and me, they are more affordable."

Reception planned

Mallon will host a public reception from 5-9 p.m. Sept. 15 to formally introduce the hand-signed graphics. The following evening, Floridian Jerry Bengis, one of the foremost authorities on Dali graphics, will lecture at a private event.

Through his Bengis Art Appraisal company, he has appraised more than 30,000 pieces of fine art and owns more than 1,000 of the 1,500 graphics created by Dali.

"Picasso is at the top of the heap; a little watercolor of his is going to run at least $150,000," he said. "Not everybody can afford that. That is why these prints have become really popular all over the world."

Prints date back to the 1500s and were embraced by such artists as Rembrandt, who believed the pieces gave more people an opportunity to own great art, Bengis said.

Artists reproduce etchings from an original template made from sharp instruments that create an image. After finishing a series, they destroy the plate to preserve the authenticity. Prints also are made from lithography and silk-screening techniques.

Local art experts are unaware of another city gallery with such an extensive collection of Modern Masters prints. The Indianapolis Museum of Art has 27,000, but from all types of artists.

"The reason you would make a print is to disseminate the image to more than one place," said Marty Krause, the IMA's curator of prints, drawings and photographs. "Michelangelo's Sistine ceiling wasn't going to go anywhere, but the print could."

The number of prints in Warhol's 1968 Campbell's Soup series totals 250, for instance. Picasso, perhaps the most prolific, made 20,000 images during his lifetime. He produced the popular 347 series in 1968 at the age of 87, in which 50 prints were replicated from each of the 347 pieces.

One of those that Mallon has is titled the "Quaker, Indian and Nude Equestrienne." The piece is her favorite from Picasso and sells for $19,500.

Relieving stress

Her foray into the Modern Masters genre stems from her relationship with friend and colleague Rhonda Long-Sharp. A lawyer by trade who represents death-row inmates, Long-Sharp turned to art as an elixir for the stresses of her job.

After purchasing a few pieces, she became concerned about authenticity issues and immersed herself in research. Long-Sharp learned so much she became hooked and, ultimately, began bringing her art to Mallon for framing.

What followed is the current partnership, in which Long-Sharp makes the purchases for Mallon. The Sept. 15 showing will feature 25 pieces in frames and roughly 15 unframed pieces Long-Sharp has purchased from private collections around the world.

"As a collector, I never thought I could afford a Picasso," Long-Sharp said. "People will have access to works they never thought they would."

Mallon's pieces range from $3,500 to $30,000. A percentage of profits from the show will benefit the Gennesaret Free Clinic, which provides dental and health care to the indigent and homeless.

Editions Limited Gallery is part of a family-owned business that Mallon's father, John, and mother, Barbara, started in 1968 as a frame shop. The Mallons operate two Frame Designs stores, one at 49th and Pennsylvania streets, and the other in Carmel, in addition to the gallery that opened in 1969. Mallon's brother, Jack, is a partner in the gallery.

The Mallons brought the gallery to East 65th Street 2-1/2 years ago from its previous location at 82nd Street and Dean Road to be in a more centralized location. They wanted to be part of the Broad Ripple Arts community, too, Mallon said.

Pablo Picasso's Dove of Peace is part of Chris Mallon's collection.
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