Monday, 19 March 2012

Retro or Vintage? How do we classify prints?

Vintage Shipping Poster
One of my jobs as the catalogue manager at New Zealand Fine Prints is sorting the latest prints into categories - because we want our customers to quickly and easily find the prints they want to buy when they visit NZ's largest art print shop. We don't expect our customers to always have in mind the exact artwork they are looking for when they start shopping at NZ Fine Prints. If a buyer has a specific print that they are searching for (or are only looking for prints available by a particular NZ artist) - then it's straightforward to search by keyword or alphabetical listing by artist surname. Although we do have a master gallery of all prints in stock at NZ Fine Prints listed in alphabetical order by title we spend a lot of time thinking about how to thematically link prints so that buyers can easily slip into a rich vein of art that is exactly the sort of thing they are looking to buy without having to trawl through every one of the thousands of prints in stock.

Unlike books which come already classified by the publisher and easily organised using the Dewey decimal system prints can be organised easily by artist/photographer/printmaker and by type (such as lithographs or prints on canvas) and by period but much less easily by topic than you might think at first glance. This has been shown recently when trying to decide how to categorise a series of pictures from New Zealand painters and designers that are clearly not contemporary in a fashion forward interior design sense but are a contemporary artwork that Retro Ski Poster by Paul Nyis referencing or remixing kiwi culture and especially kiwiana icons. I didn't feel comfortable selling these modern designs such as "Ski NZ" by Image Vault's Paul Ny pictured here alongside the real deal (eg prints of actual work by early NZ graphic designers such as Leonard Mitchell and Marcus King) in case buyers thought we passing them off as genuine historical designs. So we have decided to re-organise the images into two galleries, retro and vintage.

What is the difference between the retro and the vintage collections at NZ Fine Prints? We have decided that vintage means old, classic and authentic. Retro has two meanings in art and design. It is often used as a shorthand to describe a design period more recent than vintage, for instance mid twentieth century furniture such as your grandparents formica table is retro. However we have decided that the second usage of the word to describe contemporary design that is looking self-consicously back to an earlier period (as in the "neo-deco" retro style of designers Terry Moyle and Rosie Louise from NZ's Contour Creative Studio) is a more useful way of categorising the modern prints. Our retro collection is therefore the home of modern designers and artists working in a retro style such as Contour Creative Studio, Paul Ny and kiwiana art specialist Jason Kelly. Whose style could probably also be called "old school", now that makes me wonder if compiling an "old school" collection is a helpful idea as well…

1 comment:

  1. Definition of 'old school" - Anything that is from an earlier era and looked upon with high regard or respect. Can be used to refer to music, clothing, language, or anything really - definitely need a gallery!

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