Collecting fine art limited edition prints
What is a print?
A print can be an open edition (an unlimited amount of a particular image) or a limited edition (a limited amount of a particular image). “Low end” or inexpensive prints are usually open editions like posters and photomechanical reproductions. Open edition prints, posters and the like often have text on them, for example, a museum that featured or owns the work, or the artist’s name.
More valuable prints are limited editions, and the processes are more expensive, like screenprinting, lithography, and etching, because they are made by hand.
Gallery Brown deals in limited edition prints. These prints are, for the most part, hand signed and numbered by the artist. An exception may be an estate piece, where the artist has died, but the work that remained was limited and either stamped or signed by the estate and offered to market. Estate works can be very expensive and collectible, for example at the time of this writing, an Andy Warhol Moonwalk limited edition screenprint can run $75,000.
For the most part, Gallery Brown deals in works that are hand signed and numbered by the artist, unless otherwise stated. We also deal in original works of art.
Sometimes fine art limited edition prints are referred to as “original prints”. Personally, I dislike this term, as it seems to confuse clients. An original is an original. A fine art limited edition print is just that, a print, and limited to a certain number.
An edition size is determined by the artist and their publisher. Each print in the edition has its own number, i.e. 1/200, 2/200, 3/200 through to 200/200. Each of these individually numbered pieces is called an impression.
In an edition, there are often subsets of the edition. For instance, a common tirage (total number printed in a limited edition) may look like this:
38 x 38 inches
Edition: 160, 31 AP (artist proof), 5 PP (printers proof), 5 EP, 66 TP.
So the tirage for the above example is 267; the total number of Moonwalks produced.
Many clients see a work of art in the gallery and say,
“Oh, it’s 2/200… it’s a low number, that’s good, right?”
This is a very common misconception. All numbers of an edition are of equal value. Whether a client acquires impression 2/200, 19/200 or AP 3/31, all prints are of equal value. The exception to this is if the print is different in some way. In the case of Andy Warhol, he created trial proofs (TPs). These prints are part of tirage of the edition, however, they are each a unique color combination, and they are worth more because of their uniqueness. So, to clarify, in the above example, 201 prints are all of equal value, because they are the same.
All 66 of the TPs are each unique, and therefore worth more.
How do I know its authentic?
When collecting a fine art limited edition, it is of utmost importance to be certain of its authenticity.
One key resource for both dealers and collectors is the catalogue raisonne of an artist’s work. The catalogue raisonne documents information such as title, size, year, medium, markings, publisher, printer, et cetera, of any particular work. If a print matches all of the details in the book, it’s most likely authentic. It is very important to work with someone you feel confident is experienced with limited edition prints, because, as with certain artists, such as Miro, a fake can be difficult to detect. Knowing what to look for, and recognizing an artist’s signature comes from years of experience, of having looked at works year after year. This is the type of information a book can’t verify.
How do you arrive at the price?
Today, with the internet, most clients are very savvy when it comes to knowing about pricing. So much information is available. I tell my clients the price is first driven by supply and demand. What is the size of a particular edition on the market, and what is the demand for a particular image? Auction results also set price points or markers for pieces that dealers and galleries follow. Condition is a major part of collecting fine art limited edition prints. We in the art business have a mantra, “condition, condition, condition”. Since these limited editions are printed on paper, they are extremely fragile. They can be easily damaged by mishandling, improper framing, and exposure to sunlight.
How do I know the condition is fine?
If a work of art is unframed, that takes a lot of the guesswork out of the situation. The paper should lay flat, there should be little or no hinging tape on the verso (back of the print), the colors should look strong (not faded).
If a piece is framed, it’s a bit more difficult. A work may look good inside the frame, but due to the fact that there are a lot of poor framers, my main concern is that a print may have been hinged or mounted improperly. When buying works of art, I routinely unframe them to check condition. Unfortunately, there is no supply of inexperienced framers. Usually it’s just that a piece has too much hinging tape, something that a conservator can easily remove.
What about framing?
All works framed by Gallery Brown are done so exclusively by Art Services Melrose, who we feel is Los Angeles’ premier framer. We use only 100% archival materials and UV plexi-glass. Framing is a key element in displaying a work of art. On a personal level, it’s one of my favorite elements in what I do. It’s fun for me to contemplate different mats and moldings for a work I’ve just acquired, and I’m always excited to see the delivery truck arrive with newly framed works to hang.
Art Services Melrose is located at 626 North Almont Drive, LA, CA 90069
Their website is www.artservicesmelrose.com
If you purchase an unframed work of art, it should always be stored in acid free materials, flat until it is framed, and always should be handled with cotton gloves.
All works of art, framed or unframed, should be housed in stable environmental conditions, and away from direct sunlight.