Lincoln Center in New York City. Photo by Seth Hoffman on Unsplash

Lincoln Center Editions is building a world-class archive of prints by blue chip artists—and expanding their audience in the process.

New York City’s Lincoln Center is known for elegant performances—ballet, opera, modern dance, jazz, film festivals, theater, and more. However, the performing arts center is also at the forefront of visual art and has been building an impressive archive of limited edition prints and posters by blue chip artists since the 1960s. 

The intersection of the performing and visual arts has a storied history— from the Parisian Ballets Russes, which commissioned art from Picasso, Matisse and Kandinsky in the early 1900s, to Alphonse Mucha’s iconic art nouveau posters of French actress Sarah Bernhardt, to more contemporary collaborations and set designs by the likes of Chiharu Shiota, who represented Japan in the 2016 Venice Biennale—many visual artists have lent their talents to the stage.

Lincoln Center Editions was launched by noted philanthropist and art collector Vera List in 1962 as a suite of commissioned posters. (In the 1970s it was renamed the “Vera List Art Project,” but is now known as “Lincoln Center Editions.”) As the boundaries between art genres reveal themselves to be ever more porous, Vera List’s visual art initiative was clearly prescient in its vision. Moreover, it has also become a successful fundraising tool for the institution, as well as another means of engagement with the center’s diverse patrons, members, myriad audiences, and the outside world.

According to the Center’s website: 

“Noticing how popular the posters were becoming, in 1970 Vera decided to include premium limited-edition prints to commemorate Lincoln Center’s greatest events, from film screenings to operas. Signed-and-numbered by artists like Chuck Close, Helen Frankenthaler, Barbara Kruger and Andy Warhol, these stand-alone works of art could be sold to benefit education and performance programs at Lincoln Center, a novel idea at the time. This initiative took the art out of Lincoln Center and into the streets, where it could be appreciated by the general public.”

Fast forward to today, and the initiative has produced 150 limited-edition prints by a spectrum of trailblazing artists. The entire collection (up until 2009) can be viewed in the publication ART AT LINCOLN CENTER by Charles A. Riley II. The Center also collaborates on exhibitions of the posters and prints—just recently Poster House in NYC featured the exhibition, Vera List & The Posters Of Lincoln Center, which included some of the project’s earliest posters by Ben Shahn, Ellsworth Kelly, and Andy Warhol.

Lincoln Center Editions continues to commission contemporary artists and has published prints by well-known names such as John Baldessari, Sarah Morris, Kenny Scharf, and Richard Serra, with proceeds benefiting Lincoln Center's varied cultural programs. Furthermore, these limited editions have become serious collector’s items and several have accrued significant value on the secondary market. The limited editions are hand-signed and numbered by the artist, and available for purchase through the project’s website

According to Kristina Huntington, an art advisor and the manager of Lincoln Center Editions, “The editions were created by iconoclasts from the 1960’s to present day.” She explains:  

“The early posters were created using lithography but for the most part, screen printing was the preferred method and the go-to studio was Brand X, known for its collaborative approach and technical achievements. An image by Helen Frankenthaler was created using 63 different screens to re-create the surface quality of the colors in her original painting. The rich saturation of colors, heavy papers and large formats distinguish them as part of the Lincoln Center archive.”

The Frankenthaler print, Grey Fireworks, is one example of a work whose value has skyrocketed over the years. With an auction estimate of $6,000-$8,000, it recently sold at Sotheby’s for more than $22,000. While such gains are relatively rare in the art market, the caliber of artists commissioned by the institution is high enough that each edition has similar potential—rendering these prints both altruistic purchases and savvy investments.

Marcel Dzama, Ya Es Hora, archival pigment print and screen print, 14 x 11" (sheet), Ed. of 36. Image courtesy Marcel Dzama.


Thinking outside the nonprofit box

Like much of the art world, the field of performing arts has long been monopolized by a relatively homogenous group, composed primarily of privileged white men and women. A recent book by scholar Tobie Stein, entitled Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Performing Arts Workforce, delves into this topic, as well as the systemic hierarchies entrenched in the industry. 

In June 2020, in the wake of George Floyd’s death, Lincoln Center publicized their “commitment to change” on their Instagram page. As with many other institutions, the Center took inventory of their diversity and decided it was by no means enough. 

One of the pillars of their promise reads as follows: 

Presenting artists and points of view that better reflect the City of New York. We will do this, in part, by establishing commissioning funds specifically to center the voices of artists that have been underrepresented on our campus.

To be fair, the Center’s limited edition platform has included exceptional artists of color for decades— especially those whose work deals with issues of racial justice and social equity—with notable examples including Glenn Ligon (2004) and Lorna Simpson (2016). 

“The program was created as a bridge to connect the visual and performing arts at Lincoln Center,” explains Kristina. “At the same time, the initiative is committed to promoting diversity within the arts and working with artists that address societal issues and engage with a wide audience. Art activists such as Robin Rhode, Marcel Dzama, Carlos Rolon/Dzine, and Carrie Mae Weems have all contributed images involving themes of race, gender and cultural identity.”

International artists, including Argentinian polymath Guillermo Kuitca, the Russian abstract artist Ilya Bolotowsky, and the South African William Kentridge have also contributed works, making the Center’s archive a kind of snapshot of the global art world, its aesthetic preoccupations and style-genres, through a lens of works-on-paper. 

“Vera had a sort of a penchant  for Talmudic numbers. So most of the editions add up to nine,” explains Kristina. “That’s why you’ll see the editions have counts of 72 or 108. We continue to publish smaller editions using this numerology,  mostly 36.” The editions are generally priced between $1,500 - $5,000, but some, such as the self-portrait by Chuck Close, are priced closer to $20,000. 

In addition to providing another source of revenue, working with living contemporary artists offers new ways to engage with the Center’s donor base. Kristina has taken patrons on intimate studio visits where they’ve participated in print-making activities and artist talks. This kind of engagement broadens not only Lincoln Center’s donor scope, but is also beneficial for the artists, since it exposes their work to a larger audience outside their traditional circles.

“I believe a similar initiative could be highly beneficial to other organizations,” Kristina says. “Commissioning like-minded artists who support their mission and objectives, is a win-win approach to both promoting artists and expanding their patronage.”

Carrie Mae Weems, Jefferson Memorial, archival pigment print, 30 x 24" (sheet), Ed. of 36. Image courtesy Carrie Mae Weems.

Currently, Lincoln Center Editions is promoting their latest print release, entitled Jefferson Memorial, by acclaimed artist Carrie Mae Weems. A MacArther “Genius Grant” recipient (2013), Weems has been heralded for her ongoing investigations into the complex topics of cultural identity, sexism, class struggles, political systems, power hierarchies, and generational trauma. Her work is in the permanent collections of many museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Museum of Modern Art, NY; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and The Tate Modern, London

The work selected by Lincoln Center is a haunting black and white photograph from 2015 of the artist, herself standing before the pristine governmental monument, from which the piece’s title is derived. In shades of gray, the composition reveals both the incongruity of America’s class and racial divide, as well as the stoic beauty of the civic protestor.

It's a loaded image, and one that has taken on even more dimensionality in recent years. Full of solemnity, strength and potential—it sets the stage for the sort of catharsis that all great art evokes, whether visual art, theatrical, or other. Especially during times of crisis and change, the arts provide us with more than just entertainment—they also offer reminders of how far we've come, and can even reveal a path forward.

To learn more about Lincoln Center Editions, click here.

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