The Power of Prints

The Legacy of William M. Ivins and A. Hyatt Mayor

Exhibition Website

- May 22 2016

"Prints throw open to their students with the most complete abandon the whole gamut of human life and endeavor, from the most ephemeral of courtesies to the loftiest pictorial presentation of man's spiritual aspirations." —William M. Ivins

This exhibition commemorates the centenary of the Department of Prints at The Metropolitan Museum of Art by celebrating the astounding legacy of its founding curator, William Mills Ivins, and his brilliant protégé A. Hyatt Mayor. Together, during their combined fifty-year tenure, Ivins and Mayor amassed a collection of many hundreds of thousands of prints that is both encyclopedic in its scope and studied in its many areas of focus.

By drawing on its own vast holdings, this exhibition reveals how the Met's print collection was artfully constructed according to the vision of Ivins and Mayor—both social historians and amateur print specialists. The exhibition will show how the print collection of the Museum was meant to be like a library, composed from the beginning as a corpus of works (not all distinctly masterful works of art) that describe, in the most comprehensive way, man's aspirations. It will display the most beautiful, rare, and exceptional prints alongside the equally important popular and ephemeral works that were collected in the first fifty years of the department's history. The exhibition tells the story of this great American collection through prints by Andrea Mantegna, Marcantonio Raimondi, Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt van Rijn, Jacques Callot, Francisco de Goya, James McNeill Whistler, Mary Cassatt, Edward Hopper, Honoré Daumier, Edward Penfield, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, to name just a few artists in the exhibition.

The Power of Prints explores how the evolution of curatorial priorities—notably from purely aesthetic concerns to those of content and context—affected the building of the department's remarkable stock of etchings and engravings. The exhibition also, like Ivins and Mayor, approaches printed matter as the first entrée into the information age, as functional objects that were meant to spread information to an ever-widening public and, in turn, to reflect the changing aspects of any given society.

Credit: Exhibition Overview from the Met Museum website

Whether you go or not, The Power of Prints: The Legacy of William M. Ivins and A. Hyatt Mayor  explains how curators Ivins and Mayor not only assembled a vast collection of prints, from Renaissance masterworks to ephemeral works, but also expanded the appreciation of prints as aesthetic objects, socio-historical documents, and tools of communication. More radically, by discussing these prints in accessible language, they changed our notions of how art reaches the wider public. Drawing on previously unpublished material, including personal letters and departmental records, this is the first comprehensive exploration of the lives, careers, theories, and influence of Ivins and Mayor. Included are 120 exceptional prints that represent the breadth and depth of their acquisitions, including works by Dürer, Rembrandt, Callot, Goya, Whistler, Cassatt, and Toulouse-Lautrec.


  • Works on Paper
  • International

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