Printed Items: Turning the Pages at the Art Institute of Chicago

Single-sheet prints and printed books can be nearly as unique as original manuscripts and sketchbooks, and so some of them are now available through Turning the Pages. These printed objects from the sixteenth to the twentieth century represent some of the rarest artworks in the United States.
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These dynamic, rough-hewn linocuts from a 1948 limited-edition portfolio were originally produced by Méndez to serve as full-screen backdrops for the credits of the 1947 feature film Río Escondido (Hidden River). The first of several collaborations with director Emilio Fernández, the film provided Méndez with a platform to create a “moving mural” capable of reaching new audiences. In the film, a young, idealistic schoolteacher, played by María Félix, is sent by the government to the remote, impoverished village of Río Escondido, where a cruel local boss controls the town’s resources. The teacher’s resistance to the boss’s authority serves as an inspiration to the townsfolk, who eventually overthrow their oppressors. Both the film and the prints highlight the fragile reality in which rural Mexicans lived and underscore the importance of popular resistance as a means of social change.
On the Day of the Dead the Taller de Gráfica Popular produced calavera sheets, continuing the tradition popularized by José Guadalupe Posada. In this energetic, collaborative four-page broadside, several Taller artists took up the calavera’s dark humor to lionize military heroes, satirize murderers and the press, and reveal local scandals and international incidents. The broadside’s overarching theme of strangulation was inspired by the recently captured serial killer Gregorio Cárdenas Hernández, the first such criminal to receive extensive coverage in the Mexican press. On the pamphlet’s front page, insectlike reporter-calaveras swarm Cárdenas as he kneels in his jail cell. The interior pages expose the deadly effects of tainted milk and expensive medication and display skeletonlike caricatures of Hitler and French collaborationist leaders Petain and Laval. In contrast, on the back page, Méndez depicted the heroic, mounted calavera of General Seymon Timoshenko, who led the Soviet Red Army against the Nazi siege of Stalingrad, as a new Zapata, the Mexican revolutionary leader.
The handbills in this album exemplify the Taller de Gráfica Popular’s attempts to achieve one of its primary goals: to speak directly to and for the Mexican people, in this case chiefly urban and rural workers. Published monthly by subscription, the handbills address themes of immediate interest and adapt the popular broadside format, developed in the 19th century, of combining informative text with compelling imagery. Some underscore the importance of so-called “graphic propaganda” in promoting workers’ unity and in defending teachers against attacks by antirevolutionary forces. Others had specifically educational functions, such as demonstrating how to post handbills or instructing farmers how to negotiate crop prices.
"From the Strongholds of Sleep: Materialized Poems" is one of the rarest and most important photobooks produced in the 20th century. Ryerson and Burnham Libraries, Mary Reynolds Collection.
In this humorous, scatological calavera sheet, the artists of the Taller de Gráfica Popular use the satirical skeleton figure to portray the current struggle between the left and the right in contemporary Mexico.
This large-scale, multipage calavera newspaper collectively illustrated by members of the Taller de Gráfica Popular addresses a variety of contemporary international and domestic issues, including imperialist war, Mexican reactionary politicians and members of the press, high food prices, and the struggle over oil resources.
This collectively produced broadside pamphlet was one of the first calavera sheets published by the Taller de Gráfica Popular for the Day of the Dead, drawing on the dark humor, chaotic energy, and satirical edge of the tradition popularized by Posada.
Pablo Picasso's Unknown Masterpiece is an exuberantly illustrated rendition of Honoré de Balzac's nineteenth-century short story about the power and potential tragedy of artistic creation. Picasso drew numerous extra drawings in the margins and over existing prints to embellish this dedication copy for his publisher Henri Matarasso. In some cases, the wood engravings have become unrecognizable as the artist's flourish of color overwhelms the original image.
This pristine unbound copy of Picasso's Unknown Masterpiece shows the book in its original state and paper wrappers, the way it would have been offered for sale in 1931. (This digital version makes it appear bound.)
The prolific German Expressionist painter and printmaker Conrad Felixmüller often depicted his family in his work. He illustrated this charming children’s book for a very personal audience: “my children, Luca and Titus, and for the children of my friends.” His wife Londa wrote the rollicking German verses, which unite two letters of the alphabet on each page within the woodcuts. While some of the subjects—the M for Moor, with a golden nose ring (for N)—are visually striking but politically incorrect today, most of the images reflect the preoccupations and fantasies of early twentieth-century boys, from elephants, giants, and carefree Indians (Native American) to Father Christmas. One of the more curious interpretations, for O and P, translates as “The Hare lays an Easter Egg (Osterei); the Turkey (Puter) makes a loud cry.” The artist himself appears several times, first while carving one of the woodblocks with his children and family cat observing. His son Luca reappears as the letter L. Finally, Felixmüller’s handwritten signature beneath the colophon (held up by another self portrait) confirms that the artist did the hand coloring himself.
While living in Paris, the muralist and activist Diego Rivera illustrated this Russian book with Cubist-inspired lithographs; he would later visit Leon Trotsky during his exile in Mexico. © 2014 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Tango with Cows is a supremely fine example of Russian Futurism in print. Subtitled Ferro-Concrete Poems, this collection was printed in letterpress on wallpaper samples, the sheets cut at a provocative angle so that the book’s quality as a visual object overwhelms the legibility of the verses it contains. An encounter between industrial production and personal creativity is compared as a meeting of ballrooms and farm pastures—with the poet merging the two in his guise as a freewheeling, bovine dancer.
Kazimir Malevich put a Cubist and Neoprimitive spin on Russian Futurist books from 1912 to 1914. This one illustrates a poem on the exploits of the devil attempting to trap sinners via the title game of cards. Nathalia Goncharova made her own, very different version of this poem two years earlier, which the Art Institute also owns. Both books were intentionally produced inexpensively on low-quality paper decorated with lithographic image and text, and stapled together. As a result, these works of avant-garde ephemera were never exactly the same, and are now quite rare.
Nathalia Goncharova produced several of these cheaply-made, pocket-sized illustrated books with copious lithographs in an attempt with her Russian avant-garde group of writers and artists to create entirely new ways of relating text and image. Her treatment of Russian Orthodox imagery and icons of saint (in this case, a variety of male and female hermits) and sinners made her work controversial.
Nathalia Goncharova's futurist devil takes many forms as he plays a card game with sinners in this slyly ironic and provocative illustrated poem from the Russian avant garde. © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
German Romantic artists felt close to nature and the historical past; this drawing handbook offered the novice draftsman a wide array of realistic and nostalgic trees to copy.
Kawamura Bumpo captures the residents of Kyoto, his beloved hometown, working hard and playing hard through his expressive illustrations on the pages of this Japanese woodblock-printed drawing manual.
A Bavarian monastery librarian's love letter to printmaking and religious imagery, completed on February 14, 1798 and comprising almost 1000 separate prints and drawings.
This rare album contains the frontispiece and 22 etchings of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo's Scherzi di Fantasia, as well as Saint Joseph and the Christ Child, forming one of nine known sets of the Scherzi di fantasia and the only one preserved in its original cover.
Lucas Kilian's set of three 'Visions' are interactive anatomical flap prints that allow the viewer to dissect the paper bodies themselves.
Henrich Vogtherr the Elder and his son illustrated an exceedingly popular book of woodcut patterns for artists in Strassburg in 1538. This pirated Dutch copy from about a decade later includes all new woodcuts and no introduction, but captures the abstract spirit of the original with its grasping hands, armor details and elaborate, antiquated women's hairdos.
Lucas Cranach the Younger’s masterful woodcuts delight in showing grappling bodies in motion in this exceedingly rare Renaissance wrestling handbook. Fabian von Auerswald, the then seventy-five-year-old wrestling master of the Duke of Saxony (whose coat of arms appears on the title page) wrote the text. He referred to the images as “artistic and amusing paintings” and presumably oversaw the production of these designs for the woodcuts of the eighty-five different wrestling holds, given their specificity and accompanying step-by-step instructions. Even at his advanced age, Auerswald is shown subduing significantly younger opponents through his superior footwork and knowledge of advanced techniques. An ode to the nobility of unarmed combat, the aristocratic youths seeking to learn this art appear well-heeled and expensively garbed. None appear to have suffered the last resort described by Auerswald on the verso of page D1, the “not very companionable” option of stressing or even breaking the occasional limb to get out of a stranglehold (such as the one seen on the verso of page C6). Indeed, it is reasserted at the end of the introduction that the book (and the wrestling moves it teaches) are guaranteed to please: “A good fellow who ventures to wrestle boldly and well cannot fail.” This particular copy was bound later in seventeenth-century leather, but it is otherwise almost unblemished, a pristine (if not heavily consulted) and beautifully printed testament to Auerswald’s art.
Lucas Cranach's patron, the Elector Frederick the Wise of Saxony in sixteenth-century Germany, asked the artist to illustrate a catalogue of his famed collection of saintly remains so that visiting pilgrims and dignitaries could take a souvenir of the experience home with them.

While we encourage personal discovery and interpretation of works of art in our care, the commentaries associated with the works in My Collections have not been reviewed or approved for accuracy or content and are expressly not endorsed by the Art Institute of Chicago.

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