Priceless collection of prints is American publisher's retiring gift to Tate

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An America print publisher who worked with some of the greatest names in contemporary art for nearly half a century has given the Tate the largest gift of such works since its print collection began.

An America print publisher who worked with some of the greatest names in contemporary art for nearly half a century has given the Tate the largest gift of such works since its print collection began.

Ken Tyler, who worked with Roy Lichtenstein, Frank Stella and David Hockney, has donated nearly 500 pieces, the last tranche from a personal collection he has been giving away.

He is to visit Britain next month to take a fond look at some of the highlights of his career when the first exhibitions of his generous donation open at Tate Modern and Tate Liverpool.

The gallery was chosen at the suggestion of Pat Gilmour, who founded the Tate's print collection in the 1970s and still writes on the subject. She told Mr Tyler it would be a safe and responsible home for his life's work.

The gift had been welcomed "with open arms," said Sean Rainbird, the Tate curator who has organised the two shows. "Some of these prints would retail for five and six figures. There are some large objects - the largest [James] Rosenquist print is 11m wide - and very expensive to make. We might have been able to buy one, but not the six or eight he's given. To get groups of eight, a dozen, 15 prints by people such as Malcolm Morley and David Salle who have strong international reputations is fantastic."

The gift comprises 460 prints by 28 artists. Fifteen artists will be represented in the Tate's collections for the first time, including Joan Mitchell and Michael Heizer. Artists who have strong reputations in the United States, such as Ed Baynard, Terence Le Noue, Steven Sorman and Hugh O'Donnell, will also be brought to Britain.

The gift also significantly extends Tate's holdings of artists such as Richard Hamilton and David Salle. Even where the Tate does have good holdings of artist's prints, such as those of David Hockney, it fills gaps.

Others included are the pop artist James Rosenquist, Anthony Caro, the British artist primarily known for his sculpture, Robert Motherwell, one of the New York circle of Jackson Pollock, and Helen Frankenthaler, an abstract expressionist.

Tyler, born in 1931, began printmaking in Chicago in the 1960s, then moved to Los Angeles, where he founded Gemini Ltd and worked with Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein and Robert Rauschenberg. In 1974 he moved to New York state, retiring four years ago. The prints given to the Tate were the last of several donations to galleries around the world. It is his only gift to an institution in Europe.

Mr Tyler said there was a "kind of vacuum" now that he was no longer working. "We were a group of artists that grew together and worked together and it was a marvellous experience," he said.

But, he said, it was a legacy made to be shared: "One of my most important missions as a printer and publisher of fine art editions has been to make sure great prints are seen and appreciated by the greatest number of people possible and, to that end, I have established collections of my workshop's publications at major museums around the world.

"These are the last gifts Tyler Graphics can give because we're now closing. We hope these artworks will enhance and expand the print department's existing collection."

The first exhibition of 40 of the donated works will run at Tate Liverpool from 13 November to 3 April with a further 40 on display at Tate Modern from 22 November. Mr Tyler is visiting Britain to visit and lecture on the works. Three films showing the creative process with Rosenquist, Stella - with whom Mr Tyler worked for 35 years - and Lichtenstein will also be shown.

Mr Rainbird said what was significant about Tyler's work was not only the artists he worked with but the innovation. "He was known for pushing the boundaries of print technology. He was always trying new things and experimenting."

Tyler installed new printing presses to be able to make the giant prints that appealed to artists such as Rosenquist, who had not been interested in print-making, and when the quality of manufactured paper was not good enough he began to make his own.

Mr Rainbird said the Tate could not afford to enhance its collections without such acts of generosity. "There are prints in the Ken Tyler gift that would eat up all the money we have informally earmarked for prints," he said. "It outstrips what we could do."