‘Without Luitpold, Karin and Michael Domberger, the history of 20th-century printmaking would be very different,’ says Tim Schmelcher, International Prints specialist at Christie’s in London. ‘Domberger’s reputation for precision printing, technical innovation and electrifying colours remains unparalleled to this day.’
Over the past six decades, the Stuttgart-based printers and publishers have specialised in screenprinting, collaborating with some of the biggest names in modern and contemporary art, including Keith Haring, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Indiana and Cy Twombly.
Few artists eluded the Dombergers, although one notable exception was Andy Warhol. When asked if he would like to collaborate with them, Warhol replied, ‘Michael, your printing is far too perfect for my work’.
This month, Christie’s presents Domberger: 65 Years of Screen Printing, a dedicated online auction of editions from the studio’s own archive. The works showcase the astonishing variety of the German studio’s print production, from Pop art and Op art to Minimalism, Photorealism and Conceptual art.
The business was established in the 1950s by Karin and Luitpold Domberger, and was later taken over by their son Michael. Luitpold, who trained as a graphic designer, made his first screenprint using a lady’s silk stocking in 1948. Two years later, he started printing for the German modernist Willi Baumeister, opening his own studio shortly afterwards.
For the Dombergers, no image was too complex, no format too large, no idea too ambitious. ‘They understood that artists used printmaking to experiment and to work within a community,’ explains Lindsay Griffith, International Head of Contemporary Editions at Christie’s in New York. ‘They pushed screenprinting to the absolute limit of what can be done in terms of complexity and precision.’
D-Train (1988), above and below, by American artist Richard Estes (b. 1932), is one such example. From an edition of 125, this monumental screenprint of a New York subway carriage was printed from 112 different screens, meaning it has 112 different colourways and was passed through the printer 112 times.
‘Estes is a photorealist,’ notes Griffith, ‘so to achieve that level of precision and detail in a screenprint spanning almost two metres in width requires incredible technical mastery.’
Domberger became internationally renowned for its ability to find technical solutions for complicated ideas, printing in three dimensions, for example, and on a variety of different materials, such PVC surfaces, glass and wood.
Blue-chip artists like Estes tended to find their way to the Dombergers by word of mouth, and once there would often stay for weeks, hosted by Karin.
Many artists visited the company’s German HQ not only to push the boundaries of their practice, but also to understand how the printing process worked, explains Griffith. ‘They would often get involved with the cutting of films and screens that would then be developed.’
The studio’s emphasis on collaboration is something that artists were drawn to, with a number of them returning repeatedly. According to Schmelcher, many even dedicated works and maquettes to ‘Poldi’ — Luitpold’s nickname — as a way of thanks.
In addition to such famous names as Sol LeWitt, Christo and Agnes Martin, the Dombergers also collaborated with emerging, international talent.
They have a long history of working with women artists, among them German conceptualist Hanne Darboven and Anni Albers. ‘They also had an instinct for cool Op artists, and, in particular, the hard-edge colour-field painters of the 1960s,’ says Schmelcher.
Robyn Denny, Allan D’Arcangelo, Charles Hinman and Julian Stanczak were among those they worked with. Prints offered by these artists offer tremendous value in today’s market, affirms the specialist, especially given that they are now being ‘rediscovered’ as painters.
Sign up today
Christie’s Online Magazine delivers our best features, videos, and auction news to your inbox every week
‘The forthcoming sale is a feast for the eyes,’ states Schmelcher. ‘The variety of artists, impeccable provenance, brilliant craftsmanship and the colourful exuberance of many of the prints is sure to excite a wide range of collectors. And with estimates ranging from $700 to $220,000, there is something for everyone.’