The online art market is booming, with art editions a particular favorite. Why all the hype and who are the key players? Here’s the lowdown.
- Robert Grunenberg
New York, September 12, 2013. By the time the gavel went down at Christie’s auction house on this late-summer evening, the world of art was a different place: after going for $58.4 million, Jeff Koons’ orange-colored “Balloon Dog” became the most expensive work of art by a living artist ever to be sold. It is a record that still stands today. Yet the stainless steel sculpture, with its gleaming polished finish, is actually an edition that comes in five different colors. So it’s not an original. This may come as something of a surprise, as the exorbitant prices paid for art are generally attributed to the fact that they are unique pieces of work.
This suggests that the assumption that art editions are a less valuable investment than originals also needs to be re-examined. Needless to say, Koons is an extreme example – he is, after all, considered to be the world’s most popular living artist. But Koons also offers editions of a smaller version of his “Balloon Dog” that sell for between $5,000 and $15,000 at auction, making them affordable for a far larger group of buyers. It’s also a well-known fact that many of Andy Warhol’s prints were produced in very high numbers without causing his market value to decrease in the process. Of course, an artist’s status also influences the price – and Warhol is a perennial favorite of 20th century art. Yet the editions from Warhol and other less-well-known artists make it clear that it’s not just the rarity and uniqueness of a piece of art that decide its market value; the quality and historical significance are just as crucial.
Generally speaking, editions are a particularly attractive option for art enthusiasts on a budget. Normally, an edition costs far less than an original. Editions are produced in limited runs of varying numbers – usually between 100 and 250, but sometimes as many as 1,500 or more. The business of art editions really took off in the late 1990s, thanks to the internet. The growth of the online art business is the dominant trend of the last decade in the art market. There are several reasons why the market has focused primarily on prints and editions from the world of contemporary art. Online commerce is centered on low- to mid-priced goods, which makes it more likely for buyers to purchase items without giving too much thought to what they are doing. Buyers treat themselves to a piece of art – even if they cannot view it and select it personally in the setting of a gallery. “Anonymous online sales and expensive art do not go well together. The more outstanding the works are, the more exclusively the dealers want to present them to the customers, and the less willing they are to make them accessible to the masses online,” explains Dr. Clare McAndrew from Arts Economics, which produces an annual report with a statistical analysis of the global art market. This is less of a problem in the case of moderate- to medium-priced editions and, particularly, prints. The edition numbers are larger and the buyers less distrustful, while the quality of prints can be easily verified online.
“Many of our customers have never bought art before. Most of them wear designer clothes and have high-quality furniture, but they aren’t sure of themselves when it comes to the world of art,” says Angie Davey creative director from the online platform Eyestorm. For many prospective clients, online buying, with its anonymized service, helps eliminate any inhibitions they might experience when entering gallery spaces, with their elitist feel. Online platforms allow prospective buyers to browse what’s for sale from the comfort of their home, inquire about prices anonymously, and receive advice online, if needed. The online business also brings transparency to the art market – which, at times, has a reputation for murky pricing policies.
Editions are therefore an excellent way to make an initial foray into the exciting world of art collecting. They are less expensive, pose less of a risk, and are easier to come by than originals. And with a bit of luck, they can be a profit-making investment, too. “We see an edition as a footnote to an artist’s actual work. It might be an individual element, a sketch, or even just the idea for a piece of work. I like to think that when you buy an edition, you can engage more with the artist’s approach and reflect on it,” comments Meike Denker from the Düsseldorf edition gallery Kunst & Denker. She adds, “Once you have bought a work by an artist, you feel a certain connection to them. You keep an eye on what they’re doing. That’s why the people who buy art editions today might become the major collectors of tomorrow.”
Further reading: the BMW Art Guide by Independent Collectors
Recently published in its 4th edition, the BMW Art Guide by Independent Collectors is the first book of its type, providing a compelling overview of 256 private collections of contemporary art around the world that are open to the public. Succinct descriptions of the collections, some of which are opening their doors for the first time, accompanied by numerous coloured illustrations, take the reader on a journey through 43 countries and more than 180 cities, often to locations off the beaten track. A comparable selection of private collections is not to be found anywhere else, either on the internet or in other publications.
© from top to bottom: W.Warhol, Early Colored Liz (Chartreuse); akg-images/Ronald Dick, Monolith L; Courtesy Black Iris Contemporary Photography GmbH/Jeff Koons, Balloon Dog (Magenta), 1994 Ð 2000; B655/PALAZZO GRASSI/GAMMA/laif/Courtesy Ian Davenport and Alan Cristea Gallery, London/Courtesy: The Skateroom. Available on Artspace.com/ Jana Gerberding, courtesy BLACK IRIS Contemporary Photography/Celine Al-Mosawi, Courtesy: Edition Louisa Clement headlong I-IV, Kunst & Denker Contemporary/Jacky Tsai, Courtesy of eyestorm.com/Antoni Tàpies, Farblithografie, Auflage 75, Yvonne Amankwa/Artflash/Twilight (earth-core) (2015), Fine-Art print on Hahnemühle paper, courtesy Collectors Agenda.