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Thursday, August 5, 1999

Tatyana's Times

In the history of art it is rare to identify the birth and growth of an art practice in a country with the efforts of one individual and an institution. An exception to this is Tatyana Grossman and Universal Limited Art Editions, the print workshop which she established in the late fifties. If the history of ULAE is a history of print-making in America by artists, it is also the story of a remarkable woman. Years later, after her pioneering contributions were universally acknowledged, Tatyana Grossman said, ``Until 1955, I just poured tea and never spoke. I was a femme `artiste'''.

Though there is some truth in this observation, it is not exact. Tatyana, born in Siberia to a wealthy Russian family was interested and trained in the arts in her childhood. The Revolution pushed the family first to Japan, then Germany. In Dresden she studied fashion design and drawings at the Academy of Applied Arts, and met Maurice Grossman, a Bohemian painter whom she married in 1931. The next year, the Grossmans moved to Paris where they lived in a one-room studio-home and counted Lipchitz, Soutine, Zadkine and other artists among their friends.

Two key events marked their stay in Paris. One, the birth of a daughter, Larissa, and her sudden death in 16 months. The second was an escape across the Pyrenees to Spain to flee from the Nazis. From Barcelona, the couple went to New York where Maurice managed to make a living by selling his works, and also by reproducing for sale silk-screen prints of the works of well-known artists.

In 1955, Maurice Grossman suffered a heart attack, and Tatyana took on the job of selling the prints. During the course of one of these sales trips she showed the prints to William Lieberman, the curator of the Prints Department at New York's Museum of Modern Art. While praising the technical quality of the prints, he said that copying works designed for one medium into another is not art. Lieberman's observations, faultless and precise, changed Grossman's life. She purchased a second-hand press, set it up in her Long Island home and invited artists to come over and work on the lithography stones. On 16 November 1955, Universal Limited Art Editions was born.

In the Eighties, the Art Institute of Chicago purchased Grossman's personal collection of ULEA's entire production. In May 1982, Grossman herself added to this her personal gift of over 4200 proofs, drawings and other archival material. This collection is now available in a well-documented catalogue with an essay on the first 25 years of ULEA's history, a memoir, extensive notes on individual artists, a catalogue raisonne and a bibliography (Timeless Art Book Studio, New Delhi).

The list of artists whom Tatyana Grossman brought into the world of print-making reads like a who's who of American art: Motherwell, Johns, Rauschenberg, Liberman, Frankenthaler, Marisol, Hartigan, Dine, Goodnough, Rosenquist, Twombly, Newsman and Rivers. Until his death in 1976, Maurice Grossman played a vital role in choosing the artists and with his keen eye and sensibility he rarely erred. It was with Rivers that Grossman initiated the first of the collaborative works between an artist and a poet. The poet in question was O'Hara and the 12-page book, `Stones', took two years to complete.

This delay was quite normal. It was a result of Grossman's uncompromising attitude to quality. For instance, she believed that ``the key'' to quality is to ``do everything ourselves'' and that there should be ``no second day of printing'' because ``in the second day the touch of the printers change. Among the non-artists whom Grossman enticed to work in prints was Buckminster Fuller and Schlossberg, and the master of the doodle, Saul Steinberg. The poets who worked with ULAE included Voznesensky, Alberti, Robbe-Grillet, Southern, Schuyler, Towle, Guest and Koch. Alberti's ode to painting, `A la pintura', was published in 1968-72 with intaglio prints done by Robert Motherwell, while Voznesensky did his own prints and also collaborated on works with Rauschenberg.

Seven years after its inception 97 prints from the ULAE workshop were chosen for an inaugural exhibition to mark the opening of the MOMA's new galleries. During her lifetime Grossman was honored with the Doctor of Fine Arts by Smith College, Doctor of Letters by Dowling College and for Outstanding Achievement by Brandeis University. On June 24, 1982, she died.

The importance of this book lies not only in the visual delight of seeing the prints. More then that, what is of supreme interest is the thread which connects the artists and printers to the prints the personality of Tatyana Grossman and the ambience she created at the ULAE. As Buckminster Fuller once said: ``You can't go all the way to heaven and back. But you can go almost there when you go to Universal Limited Art Editions.'' There cannot be a better comment on the life and times of Tatyana Grossman. She set standards for others to follow.

Copyright © 1999 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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