Art News & Views

Rise of Prints

Market Monitor

by  Art Bug

It is said that all downturns come with at least one upswing. The upswing of the global downturn from 2009-10 has been the rise in interest in prints. So much so that leading auction houses both in Europe and America, as well as in Asia have started giving exclusive windows to sales of prints only. All through this year, Phillips De Pury, Christies and Sotheby's have conducted exclusive print sales, as has China Guardian and all of them have produced very encouraging results.

One of the reasons why the market for Printmakers has resurrected is, as we had pointed out in the last edition, prints cost much less than original paintings. With latest technology joining hands, including laserjets, and softwares like photoshop and other imaging softwares, the gamut of experimentation for artists have also increased. In fact, a few start-ups in America, like 20x200 are now specializing in online bidding of digital prints of works by artists, which can cost anything between $50 and $5000, depending on the market value and brand association of the artist concerned.

For entry-level, as well as casual collectors, this is a boon. As a fallout, these start-ups as well as lower mid-level Printmakers are also benefitting from the new culture.

For some of the collectors, it is reported, this is turning out to be an 'enduring romance’ the acquisitions being cheap yet capable of satiating their aesthetic thirst. At the end of the day, after all, being a collector is not just about investments. It is also about how good one feels about possessing a particular piece of art.

There is another trend that has emerged post recession, and this involves even mid-level collectors. A lot of them are now showing enormous interest in limited edition, signed and folioed prints by famous painters. And the names doing the rounds in this circle are Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Andy Warhol. Market watchers think this is due to the fact that a Picasso print will cost a whole lot less than a Picasso painting, but at the same time give the collector the satisfaction of possessing a Picasso. This, coupled with the fact that the print market is increasing and resale values of signature prints are in one sense, better guaranteed because of the cost-differential with paintings is also the reason why prints are 'on the rise'. To illustrate this point, Faye Hirsch, writing in Art in America, points out, “it's always fun to find a print to follow from house to house. My choice this time was David Hockney's Lithographic Water Made of Lines, Crayons and Two Blue Washes, 197880. Produced originally in an edition of 85, plus 18 artist's proofs, at Tyler Graphics, it appeared at all three sales-and each time edged up: at Phillips de Pury, selling for $32,500, at Christie's for $37,500 and at Sotheby's for $40,625. Buyers must have been tired of this fitful spring, and found Hockney's diving board over a sun-drenched pool irresistible.”

The way blue-chip prints are making inroads is illustrated by's April 28 report on the Swann Galleries' prints sales. “Swann Galleries held an auction of Old Master through Modern Prints that saw active bidding from collectors and dealers in the saleroom and via telephone. As a result, 10 new auction record prices were achieved for individual prints and portfolios.”

Not only Swann, Phillips de Pury, Christies and Sotheby's have also been in the race. Hirsch reports, “The top end of the print market is picking up, judging from the recent prints and multiples auctions in New York, at Phillips de Pury, Christie's and Sotheby's.” New York dealer Susan Sheehan told A.i.A, “Paintings and sculpture for big-name artistsblue-chip, with a well-established historyare priced so high that the prints must seem cheap by comparison. It's shockingabsolutely shockinghow well the print market is doing, at least in large-scale images by major artists."

At Phillips de Pury's first-ever evening print sale, on April 21, a complete 1972 Mao portfolio, by Andy Warhol, sold for $938,500, rising above its $600,000800,000 estimate. (All sales prices here include premiums and taxes.) "This is among the top three prices ever achieved for that portfolio," said Phillips de Pury's print expert, Cary Leibowitz…. At Christie's two-session sale on April 26, 371 lots were on offer, of which 338 sold: i.e., 91 per cent by lot. The total take was $8,420,650… A fever for Picasso ceramics reignited at Christie's on April 27, when the house held a special sale of a private collection of these objects. The "white glove sale"100 per cent of lots soldtotalled $1,887,125. This was a dandy result for 151 lots, most selling above their estimates-often well above, as with the top lot, the cheerful painted white earthenware Aztec Vase with Four Faces, 1957, estimated at $30,00050,000, which peaked at $134,500.

The top lot at Sotheby's on Apr 29 was Henri Matisse's languid Grande Odalisque à la Culotte Bayadère, a silky black-and-white litho that sold within estimate for $422,500. (The house brought in $8,477,768 in its two sessions, with 89.5 percent of 304 lots sold.) More surprising were the third- and second-place lots, which both print records for their artists. Jacques Villon's Les Cartes ou le Réussite, a 1903 aquatint of a card-player in dishabille, small dog perched nearby, rocketed above its high estimate of $100,000 to sell for $248,500. Louise Bourgeois's landmark set of nine engravings from 1947, He Disappeared into Complete Silence, nearly quadrupled its high estimate of $80,000, selling for $314,000 to a private European collector.”

Meanwhile in Asia, Chinese Printmakers are also making hay while the sun shines on their painting market too. Contemporary artists are making quite a mark. During the China Guardian sale, the 1962 born Luo Guirong's My Land and Me No.3 sold for $7,368, while the 1977 born WU Wanxi's two art prints Her No.1 was sold for $1,146 and Pure No.1 sold for $818. Incidentally in their previous auctions, Guirong sold for $1600 while Wu varied between $260 and $400.

However, the picture of Indian prints is not yet that rosy. Despite the report quoting artist and New Delhi-based Printmaker Jai Jarotia, “with more artists becoming popular, there is scope for print makers to make new works by using print-making as a technique and replicate it,” the actual fact is laid bare by art commentator Umesh U V in his blog, where he writes, “let me reiterate that the demand of prints is almost nil with the exception of Laxma, Zarina etc… so the final say is that overall demand for prints of any Indian artists is in (sic) infant stage but surely it will gain focus as prices of the original paintings shoot upwards like it is happening in the current scenario.”

Umesh was in this case obviously referring to FN Souza, who along with Somnath Hore are considered to be the pioneers of contemporary Indian Printmakers.

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art etc. news & views is a monthly magazine published from India in order to promote art and culture. It intends to raise awareness about art all around India and the world. The magazine covers art exhibitions, auction highlights, market trends, art happenings besides Antique, Collectibles, Fashion, Jewellery, Vintage, Furniture, Film, Music and Culture.