Discovering the world of art collecting

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


An online platform with its headquarters in New York, Artsy enables its users to experience art in a variety of ways. Besides information and articles on artists, galleries, fairs, collections and auctions, the company also offers interested parties the opportunity to acquire works of art and editions. With a close-knit global network at its disposal and access to galleries and fairs specializing in art prints, editions and multiples, Artsy’s portfolio includes, for example, the Alan Cristea, Crown Point Press and Two Palms galleries, as well as the IFPDA (International Fine Print Dealers Association) fair in New York and the London Original Print Fair.


Artspace is a New York-based e-commerce platform for contemporary art that was founded in 2011 by Catherine Levene. She is credited with being the first major player to have commercialized the art market as an online business and made it accessible to a broad customer base. Featuring over 2000 artists from 400 galleries, including stars such as Damien Hirst, Robert Rauschenberg and Yayoi Kusama, Artspace is today the biggest name in the game. Artspace also has a wide range of editions for sale: in collaboration with both well-known and up-and-coming artists, the online platform creates its own editions, such as the popular series of artist skateboards that includes designs from Christopher Wool, Paul McCarthy, and Jake and Dinos Chapman.


The online gallery BLACK IRIS Contemporary Photography specializes in modern photographic work from the fields of fashion, music and art. The Berlin start-up has a well-organized online store that sells limited editions that customers can order either framed or unframed. The website also includes a journal with original articles on the life and work of the photographers, as well as details of relevant events and exhibitions. In addition, it is worth checking out the gallery’s Instagram account, to which various photographers represented by BLACK IRIS contribute regularly, allowing viewers to get a good impression of their individual styles and motifs. BLACK IRIS targets both novice and experienced collectors, as well as photography enthusiasts. The editions are priced between $480 and $3,200.

Kunst & Denker Contemporary

Kunst & Denker Contemporary from Düsseldorf, Germany, seeks to foster cooperation among galleries, artists, institutes and collectors. At the same time, the company is a gallery in its own right, setting up art projects and exhibitions, as well as producing art editions. It also acquires and sells works of art. In addition to its core online business, Kunst & Denker has its own gallery spaces and an art salon where exhibitions are held and individual works are shown. The majority of the editions – including works from well-known names, such as Lawrence Weiner, Tal R or Tim Berresheim – are sold online and cost between $215 and $2,150. An informative newsletter rounds out the package.


London-based art dealer and publishing platform, Eyestorm focuses on limited editions of contemporary art, including works from such illustrious artists as Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Andy Goldsworthy, Peter Blake and Marc Quinn, as well as photographers, including Helmut Newton and William Klein. While an original from any of these artists would carry an average price tag of $21,500 to $32,000, the Eyestorm editions are priced at between $1,100 and $5,350. A market player as far back as 1999, Eyestorm now deals not only in editions from established artists, but also in paintings, sculptures and drawings from previously unknown artists.


Every other week the Berlin start-up offers two new signed and strictly limited editions from both well-known and as-yet-undiscovered artists. Founder Katharina Bauckhage came up with the idea for Artflash when she stumbled across an edition from a German artist, which was believed to have been sold out for quite some time. How could it be that this special edition was still being offered at the original price? A little research revealed that art clubs and publishers specializing in art editions often sell works by well-known artists at very reasonable prices – even below the market rate, in some cases. The only problem is that virtually no one knows about them or where to find them. Artflash makes these bargain discoveries accessible to buyers, and does so often at a lower price than other suppliers. From Sigmar Polke to Mel Ramos – all the editions can be bought framed or unframed.

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 Jana Gerberding, courtesy BLACK IRIS Contemporary Photography/Celine Al-Mosawi, Courtesy: Edition Louisa Clement headlong I-IV, Kunst & Denker Contemporary/Jacky Tsai, Courtesy of Tàpies, Farblithografie, Auflage 75, Yvonne Amankwa/Artflash/Twilight (earth-core) (2015), Fine-Art print on Hahnemühle paper, courtesy Collectors Agenda.

Collectors Agenda

Collectors Agenda is more of an editorial platform than an online gallery. Besides featuring interviews with artists, and chronicles of visits to their studios, it also offers editions that are produced in direct collaboration with the artists. It is the artists themselves, however, who choose which pieces of work are to be sold and how they will be presented, including the type of frame to be used. These exclusively produced editions can then only be purchased from the Collectors Agenda website. By keeping the number of copies produced as low possible, the Vienna-based team manages to offer a top-tier product with a high degree of exclusivity that is, at the same time, affordable.