Francisco Goya (1746-1828) ranks high among the all-time greats of art. He was unsurpassed in technical and formal ability, the equal of any in depth and power, and as original and revolutionary as any artist could be. In addition, his mature work was so deeply felt and brilliantly resolved, so profoundly prophetic in theme and implication, that it seems more relevant to the 20th century than to the century in which it was made.
This is especially true of his so-called ''Black Paintings,'' that grim and grotesque cycle of 14 paintings created in his old age to decorate his home, and of his canvases detailing the brutality of Napoleon's army after it invaded Spain. It is also true of his great series of prints ridiculing human foibles and follies, and of that masterpiece of graphic art ''The Disasters of War.''
A large selection of etchings from the latter series is on view now at the Spanish Institute here. Also included in this loan exhibition of 115 works owned by the Arthur Ross Foundation are prints from the ''Los Caprichos,'' ''La Tauromaquia,'' and ''Los Disparates'' series, one lithograph from the ''Bulls of Bordeaux,'' and six of Goya's early etchings after paintings by Velazquez.
Impressive as this exhibition is, it contains few if any surprises for anyone familiar with Goya's graphic production. Even the issue of early impressions, something that matters so much in the case of Rembrandt, where a posthumously printed etching may retain only 40 percent of the quality found in a print pulled by the artist himself, becomes relatively unimportant with Goya. His technique, after all, was more blunt and direct, and less dependent upon delicacy of touch than was the case with Rembrandt. Any serious exhibition will, of course, consist of good, early impressions - and this one at the Spanish Institute here certainly does. What matters most, however, is the range and quality of the examples chosen, and the degree to which they give a true picture of the depth and subtlety of Goya's genius.
The works on view here fulfill that objective perfectly. Most of Goya's greatest prints are included, as well as choice selections from every series he produced. Of particular interest are the 33 plates of the 1816 first edition of ''La Tauromaquia'' and the seven rejected plates of that series ultimately published in 1876. Although this graphic cycle devoted to the historical development of the bullfight in Spain is frequently overlooked by those more interested in Goya's antiwar and allegorical works, it still deserves respect, and in fact it contains some of printmaking's finest images.
I thoroughly enjoyed this exhibition, although I must admit it is difficult to review a show of works I have known and loved for decades, and which includes at least one print (''Ridiculous Folly'') that ranks among my all-time favorites. Exile from this planet would be a little less painful for me were I permitted to travel with complete sets of Durer's, Rembrandt's, and Goya's prints. Not only would I have with me some of mankind's most exquisitely rendered pictorial images, I would also have as magnificent a record of human folly and human greatness as mankind has produced. In the etchings of Goya, in particular, I would also be carrying with me some of humanity's most brilliantly conceived and executed images pertaining to our race's deepest and most persistent dreams, fears, realities, and aspirations. Others may have attempted to produce this kind of art, but no one did it as well as he.
At the Spanish Institute, 684 Park Avenue, through Jan. 16. 50 years of fine prints
Many print collectors have a special affection for Associated American Artists. It is where they bought their first lithograph or etching, were introduced to the graphic work of the old masters or learned about especially talented newcomers, or went regularly to keep up with what was happening in the world of fine prints.
Over the years, AAA published prints by such major American artists as Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton, sold prints nationwide through its mail-order department, exhibited the work of most important printmakers, and in general made the American public aware that engravings, woodcuts, lithographs, and other forms of graphic art were as respectable - and a great deal less expensive - than paintings.
To celebrate its 50th year in the field, AAA has mounted an anniversary exhibition that includes examples by most of the artists it has represented. Hardly anyone is left out. The show's catalog, in fact, reads like a who's who of American printmaking, with an impressive number of Europeans thrown in for good measure.
Not everything, unfortunately, is of the highest quality, although that's to be expected, I suppose, in an exhibition so broad in range and rich in years. There are some truly outstanding prints, however, ranging from Rembrandt's ''Landscape With a Cottage and Large Tree,'' Ensor's ''The Cathedral,'' and Haden's ''Sunset in Ireland'' to examples by Albright, Benton, Curry, De Martelly, Sloan, Winkler, Wood, and several others. I was especially intrigued by ''Stacking Hay,'' an early romantic-realist lithograph by Jackson Pollock made while he was still under the influence of his teacher Benton, but I was disappointed that a few American artists, most particularly Peter Milton and Stow Wengenroth, were represented by lesser works.
Even so it's a very worthwhile and interesting show. It will remain on view at Associated American Artists, 20 West 57th Street, through December.