The title of this article is self-explanatory. You will find the answer in the text of our permanent author Maria Boicova-Wynants.

Maria Boicova-Wynants,

Mediator, Business Writer, Trademark and Patent Attorney

Are replicated works like prints and multiples as valuable as

a color insert out of a magazine?

A piece of art is something we expect to be unique. This uniqueness is a part of its charm and appeal. Yet, what about art that exists in several (sometimes many) copies? Does it have the same magnetism? Does it have the same value? And bringing this point even further — is it still art, or if uniqueness is absent, it is not art anymore? In this article, I would like to provide a glimpse into the world of art made in more than one identical impression, namely prints and multiples.

Most of the readers will remember the record-breaking Balloon Dog (Orange) sold in 2013 at Christie’s for USD 58.4 million. The Balloon Dog (Orange) is a ten-foot-tall sculpture made by Jeff Koons, a unique and desirable piece of art by one of the cult artists of today. Yet, there is more than one Balloon Dog (Orange), and these other ones are not fake. Moreover, they also bear the signature of Koons and a juicy price tag. Thus, an edition of 2300 ten-inch versions of Balloon Dog (Orange) is available for sale at Artsy for EUR 8,500 apiece. On the website, this artwork is advertised as “a part of a limited edition set”. The explanation of a term provides that a limited edition works are “original works created in multiple with the direct involvement of the artist”. Hence, the small ten-inch Balloon Dog (Orange) is an original artwork made with the direct involvement of Jeff Koons; two thousand three hundred times. To answer one of the questions posed above, this editioned piece cannot be denied the name “art”; even more so, it is an original and desirable artwork, pretty much as its “big expensive brother”. So, where is the catch?

First, let us clarify the terms. 

What, exactly, is the distinction between prints, editions, and multiples? 

  • print, according to Christie’s, is (typically) “a work on paper made in editions”, or in other words, in several examples. 
  • Thus, editions are series of artworks made from one plate or cast. There are editions of prints and editions of multiples.
  • Multiples could be either a two-dimensional print, a three-dimensional sculpture, or an installation piece. distinguishes between (1) editioned multiples, that are “pieces created in larger limited editions, authorized by the artist’s studio or estate.”, and (2) non-editioned multiples, that are “works made in unlimited or unknown numbers of copies, authorized by the artist’s studio or estate.”

The difference between multiples and prints is that multiples (be it editioned or non-editioned) are not necessarily produced with the direct involvement of the artist (though with approval from either the artist or his/her studio, foundation, or estate). Among multiples are Picasso ceramics, Warhol silk-screen multiples made by his assistants, or, for example, KAWS companions.

If one can live with the fact that someone out there owns the exact twin of his or her favorite artwork, then owning an editioned piece might be a good choice for a collector. Or, it might also become a great entry point into the world of art collecting, as for example, a print will usually be offered for 10-25% of the price of the same artist’s unique work on paper. In general, the market for prints and multiples is increasing steadily and the major auction houses routinely host their sales. Thus, owning a print or a multiple is an enticing opportunity to get one’s hands on the iconic and authentic piece of art, and, as already mentioned, without a six-zero price tag attached to it. 

Now, a bit more specifically on prints.

Print is obviously not the same as just a copy, even should the latter be authorized. According to the definition of the International Fine Art Printers Association, a print is from the outset conceived as such by the artist. In other words, the artist envisioned the creation of an artwork that will have several identical impressions, not merely created copies of existing work in another medium. This, of course, relates to the original, or fine art prints. Another category of prints is the so-called reproductive prints, which are prints reproducing a work initially created in another medium. The value of such prints is lower than fine art prints.

There are many different techniques for creating prints. Without going into details, as that calls for a separate article, there are three main techniques: 

  1. the intaglio, or incision technique, which can be further divided into etching, aquatint, photogravure, engraving, drypoint, and mezzotint; 
  2. the planographic technique, further divided into lithography, serigraphy, monoprints, monotypes, pochoir, screenprints, as well as counterproofs and digital prints (the latter are sometimes put in a separate category, as digital prints are created not with a plate but with a computer, and printed with an ink-jet printer. Subcategory of them is giclee prints, where pigmented ink is sprayed in mists of minuscule dots onto either canvas or just a high quality paper); 
  3. and the relief technique, further divided into wood engraving, woodcut, and linocut. 

Obviously, each of them requires fine craftsmanship in addition to artistic talent. Therefore, frequently the artist cooperates with the printer in the creation of prints. 

When one inspects a print, s/he will come across a set of markings (in pencil) that will have a direct effect on the value of a print, hence are useful to know.

These are:

  • “A.P.” or “P/A”, or their French equivalent — “E.A.” or “E d’A” — all of them stand for the “artist’s proofs”, produced to check the progress of prints during their production. To note that A.P. prints do come on the market and as the art world loves rarity, this type of print will most often cost 20-50% more than a signed and numbered print coming from the same edition. The caveat for determining the value of prints is that the number of artist proofs should generally not account for more than 10% of an edition. 
  • “P.P” marking stands for “printer’s proof”. These prints are rare prints, given to the printer or publisher by the artist. Their value on the market will usually be comparable to that of A.P. prints and sometimes even be slightly higher.
  • “H.C.” or “H/C” which stands for “hors de commerce”, the French for “not for sale” — those are prints usually received by the artist from the publisher as a gift for allowing him or her to print their images. Despite their name, also H.C. prints sometimes come to the market. Moreover, due to their rarity, H.C. prints tend to be extremely valuable.
  • “BAT” — “bon a tirer”, the French for “good to print”, sometimes called “RTP” — “ready to print” — a master image against which all others are to be compared. In case the artist is not printing his or her own edition, this print is considered to be the final trial approved by the artist as “the way it has to be”. In an edition, there is only one BAT-print, which makes this the most valuable and sought-after print of an entire edition.
  • Finally, an important marking on the print is the actual indication of the volume of an edition and the sequence number of this particular print in the edition. This marking is done in the form of a fraction, with the first number indicating the sequence number of the impressions and the second — the total number of impressions in the edition. Thus, for example, “12/40” would mean that this is the 12th print in an edition of 40.

Sometimes, a print can be marked as “1/1” or “one/off”, or “unique”, which might seem confusing as this means that the print actually is one-of-a-kind. There might still be an artist’s proof (A.P.), however, aside from that, there are no other impressions. This is called monotype or monoprint, yet there are also variations like collagraph — altered prints with collage or chine-colle additions, and, for example, hand-colored prints. Creativity has no limits; while provided that this unique artwork is created by one of the printing techniques, it will still be a print, even though not editioned. 

Another categorization to know is lifetime impressions versus late impressions (or posthumous impressions). Given that late impressions are further from the original intention of an author, this has the obvious consequence for the desirability of the print and, consequently, its value. 

Finally, there is also a category of open editions (or unlimited editions) applicable to both prints and multiples. Open edition by definition implies the possibility to reproduce a print or a multiple in an infinite number of impressions.

The above definition provokes a question:

while limited edition prints and multiples, as discussed above, are obviously artworks (rare, valuable, and sought-after), what about the unlimited edition ones? How are they better than the color insert of a magazine, as questioned in the title of this article?

In the US, there exists the limitation of “200 or fewer” introduced in the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) for recognition of prints and multiples as a work of visual art. Citing §101:

“A "work of visual art" is — 

(1) a painting, drawing, print or sculpture, existing in a single copy, in a limited edition of 200 copies or fewer that are signed and consecutively numbered by the author, or, in the case of a sculpture, in multiple cast, carved, or fabricated sculptures of 200 or fewer that are consecutively numbered by the author and bear the signature or other identifying mark of the author; or 

(2) a still photographic image produced for exhibition purposes only, existing in a single copy that is signed by the author, or in a limited edition of 200 copies or fewer that are signed and consecutively numbered by the author.”

This limitation of “200 or fewer” limits the protection of the rights of attribution and integrity for the prints and multiples in open (unlimited) editions or editions exceeding 200 impressions. Europe in this sense is much more inclusive, as open edition prints and multiples are treated like any other work of visual art granting its author/owner the associated economic and moral rights. Obviously, open or unlimited editions will be the cheapest ones compared to limited edition fine prints hand-signed by the author. However, they will still be better quality prints than the color insert of a magazine. Thus, for those just getting acquainted with art or discovering their taste and favorite authors, acquiring the unlimited edition might still be worth it and provide a good starting point. 

Comments: 1
Irina Olevska
Sep 17, 2020 08:00
Another article on fine art multiples and transactional malpractice around them you can find here:
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