HERE’S HOW TO MAKE SURE YOU INVEST WISELY WHEN SEEKING OUT WORKS IN THIS GROWING CATEGORY
By Desiree Pakravan and Holly Sherratt
Collecting art can be a daunting task, even for the most avid art enthusiast.
In this esoteric world of collecting, prints are the gateway to beginning and developing an art collection. They offer an affordable entry point into the market and are especially appealing to novice collectors who are looking to own works by established artists. Because prints are not always unique, but made in multiple editions, collectors can own a recognizable work by a famous artist for the fraction of the cost of an original painting or drawing. For a small investment, the reward can be large: An art admirer can spend between $1,000 and $10,000 while owning an extraordinary work by Damien Hirst, Murakami, Banksy or even Picasso. Prints have become widely available and accessible at all price points.
Prints are especially appealing to online bidders, both to new and informed art collectors. While the internet has played an important role in the advancement of online auctions and bidding, it has also allowed Heritage Auctions to develop monthly online Prints & Multiples auctions to reach a larger and more global audience. Due to the success of these auctions, Heritage has quickly become the destination to buy and sell prints. In a few short years, Heritage has been able to offer the most highly sought after works on the market, including numerous prints estimated in the six-figure range. In addition to its monthly sales and the demand for more prints, Heritage has two Signature® sales in the spring and fall to feature the most valuable works by Warhol, Lichtenstein, Chagall and Miro, among other blue-chip artists.
REACHING EVERY POSSIBLE BUYER
In the past five years, the specialists at Heritage have noticed a surge in online bidding during the auction house’s biannual live and online Modern and Contemporary art auctions. Through high-resolution images, Heritage’s “view at scale” feature, and detailed condition reports on the Heritage website, clients are comfortable bidding on the auction house’s platform without viewing the works in person. With over 1 million online registered bidders, Heritage collaborates with third-party sites such as Artsy, Invaluable, Live Auctioneers and eBay to extend Heritage’s reach and touch every possible international buyer. Now collectors can bid through any of these platforms or use Heritage’s proprietary online bidding technology to compete for exceptional prints in its monthly sales.
The results have been phenomenal: Heritage auctions have consistently achieved sell-through rates higher than 90 percent by value and lot. Heritage has even beat its competitors’ prices for high-priced editions. For instance, in 2015, Heritage sold Andy Warhol’s Endangered Species portfolio for $725,000, setting a world-record price for the numbered edition.
In October 2017, Heritage offered works from the estate of John Hutcheson, a master printer with a long industrious career. He worked at the world’s leading print ateliers, including Tyler Graphics, Tamarind Institute of Lithography, Petersburg Press. During the 1980s, Hutcheson ran his own workshop in the New York City area and developed personal relationships with hundreds of artists, including Frank Stella, David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein and Joan Mitchell. The two-part Hutcheson sale sold well above Heritage’s presale estimate. The highlight of the collection was a monumental work by Roy Lichtenstein, Nude with Blue Hair, which sold for $540,000 against a $300,000 low estimate. Sales like these position Heritage as a formidable force in the print market.
Noting Heritage’s success, buyers often ask what to look for when collecting prints. We always tell our clients to collect what they love, spend what they can afford and appreciate art for art’s sake. A great collector is a risk-taker, one who develops a collection of both established and emerging artists. There will always be success stories like the Lichtenstein and Warhol auction records, but the auction market fluctuates so any investment in art will be speculative. We advise clients to buy what they enjoy first and consider the investment potential second. While it is important as a collector to understand the monetary investment in a work, it is equally important to recognize that it is much more than that; buying art is a reflection of one’s personality and is an investment that enhances one’s vision and aesthetic. That said, there are a few helpful pointers to make sure you are investing wisely when seeking out the works that appeal to you most.
First, know the difference between a print and a poster. A poster is a photomechanical reproduction created on an offset or inkjet printer in a large edition made for high-volume commercial printing production. An original print is made directly on a copper plate, lithographic stone, woodblock or silkscreen. The resulting prints are not unique because there are several in the edition, but they are all original. They are not copies of other paintings or drawings. Artists create the works directly on the printing matrix. There are also many types of prints. It is important for a collector to know the difference between a lithograph, screen print, etching, woodcut and monotype.
Second, pay attention to the edition number. The edition is the total number of prints for a given image. There might be one print in the edition or several hundred. The printer generally numbers the work as a fraction in the lower margin. Some people like to collect the first print of a run. In other words, they want to buy number 1 from the edition of 50, or 1/50. However, in terms of price, the sequence number has no meaning; print 1 of 50 does not imply that it was the first one made and would be estimated the same as other numbers in the edition. But, the number of prints in the overall edition could make a big difference in terms of value. A Picasso print from an edition of 40 will almost certainly be more valuable than a Picasso print from an edition of 500.
Clients often ask us about the prints that are not numbered, but are labeled A.P. or T.P. These prints are either artist or trial proofs that have been set aside for the printer or artist. In general, these prints are identical in execution to the numbered copies and will have the exact same value at auction, but a few artists, like Warhol, made unique proofs in unique color combinations that are highly collectible and worth much more.
Third, be sure to protect your print by having it properly framed and displayed. Specialists usually unframe every print to inspect the condition, knowing that poor framing causes extensive damage. Find a reputable framer and invest in acid-free mattes and backboards. It is worth the small investment to buy archival materials. Stay away from cardboard, which causes paper to turn yellow and become brittle. Also, use archival hinges such as linen tape to secure your print to the backing. Do not let your framer spray mount your print. It is always dismaying to unframe a print and discover the framer used glue. Be sure to hang your prints away from the windows and rotate them often. Too much exposure to light can fade the colors and stain the paper. Sun and moisture are the enemies of any work on paper.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, consult with an expert you trust. We and our colleagues are passionate about prints and are always happy to discuss recent trends in the circuit. Heritage holds public viewings of its print sales in Dallas, but Heritage specialists also invite visitors to offices in New York, Chicago, Beverly Hills and San Francisco.
The best way to collect art is to establish a relationship with an art specialist. Most of us love sharing our knowledge and would be pleased to help navigate you along your print-collecting journey.
DESIREE PAKRAVAN is a consignment director in the Fine & Decorative Arts department at Heritage Auctions in Beverly Hills, Calif.
HOLLY SHERRATT is director of Modern & Contemporary Art at Heritage Auctions in San Francisco.
This article appears in the Winter 2020-2021 edition of The Intelligent Collector magazine. Click here to subscribe to the print edition.