Useful Tips on Collecting Prints
When it comes to collecting prints we listen closely. A while back, HLK attended a lively panel discussion hosted by the ADAA (the Art Dealers Association of America) where connoisseurs, conservationists and collectors shared some valuable insider tips which we thought were worthy enough to share. Esteemed panelists included: Jordan Schnitzer (Collector and publisher), Jacob Lewis (Director, Pace Prints), Deborah Wye (The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, Chief Curator of Prints and Illustrated Books, MoMA), Armin Kunz (Director, C. G. Boerner Gallery), and Terry Winters (renowned artist). Susan Sollins, the Executive Director, Art21 Foundation. Here are the takeaways from this venerable panel of experts.
The Importance of Prints
Critically acclaimed artist, Terry Winters urged everyone to treat all mediums equally for there is no hierarchy between mediums. For her, it is all about the line, and printing allows specific kinds of lines. It is not just about paint.
There’s a psychological barrier when it comes to prints because of the misperception that they do not carry inherent value because more than one image has been produced. Although savvy collectors have long embraced prints as valuable or collectible objects and have recognized printmaking for its unique methods of art making, the general public still tends to consider prints as second-class works or worse, valueless reproductions. Due to the lack of awareness of the vast array of printmaking techniques and the introduction of modern technology, it is hard for some to tell the difference between a poster and a fine art print. In addition, the market is biased in favor of one-of-a-kind oil paintings where paintings on canvas obtain the highest auction records.
Historically, printmaking has been a beloved medium for experimentation by artists. Printed matter, and all its variations allowed them to push traditional boundaries in art while making art more easily accessible. Old master printers for example, recognized printmaking as a learned craft early on as different skill sets were required for each technique. Whether the print was an etching, woodcut or lithograph, the artist had to learn an entirely new skill. Pablo Picasso himself is well known for the great number of print techniques he used in producing his original graphics, creating his first prints in 1905.
The print medium gives artists independence and freedom to create and often inform an artist’s creative process while expanding their output. James Ensor’s prints were so integral with his paintings that his paintings could not be shown without his prints.
Changes in the Printmaking Field
Since 2010, we have been experiencing a phenomenon where the print market has gained in popularity exponentially. The fact that printmaking ateliers around the U.S. are being filmed by Art21 shows an increased interest in printmaking. This is in stark contrast to when prints used to be disregarded as worthless with prices as low as $50! Now they are widely recognized as important art objects that require complicated techniques, specific materials and methods. New developments in digital techniques for example, have opened up a whole new playing field where even classical printmaking has expanded.
Selected Q & A from Panel Discussion:
Q: What are some useful tips on collecting prints?
A: Prints are all about the image. The edition number doesn’t matter in terms of determining value. Look at the condition of the print. For older prints ask if paper well preserved, washed, bleached etc. Know that a Monotype has 2 impressions. Pay attention to the quality of the impression. If the image is printed many times from copper plate or woodblock, it could have been damaged. Compare images, paper quality, condition, and look around as much as you can to gain experience.
Pay attention to details. For example, the margins may have been cut off due to tears. Up until 1950s prints were in albums. Narrow margins may add value because it shows it had a history in an album.
Q. What are your thoughts about printmakers like Lucian Freud, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg?
A. For some artists paintings are a category of printmaking. Some paintings even come from their prints, for example, because the ‘Bristling’ factor (raised ink from etching) gives the work more texture.
Q. How does one learn about prints and the different kinds?
The MoMA’s Study Center is available to the public and you can access an invaluable resource to help you do research.
Q. What period should one focus on when collecting?
A. Older prints are often more expensive so buy forward, don’t buy back. For example, Warhol’s prints were cheap when they just came out. So keep a keen eye on the contemporary market!