In June 2017, Heritage Auctions decided to increase the number of its prints and multiples auctions from four times a year to once a month.
It had been holding live and online auctions in the category (which describes any artwork that is produced in editions, rather than one-offs) for about a year, and when “we tried it online at a lower price point, we couldn’t believe it,” says Leon Benrimon, director of modern and contemporary art at Heritage. “Everything sold.”
The sales have gone so well, he says, that they plan to start holding them weekly this summer. “People are excited,” he says. “But we’re still only capturing a fragment of the marketplace.”
Prints have been around since the Renaissance, and have always occupied a slightly uneasy place in the art market. They’re designed by an artist and often signed by the artist, but they are, by definition, reproductions. “They used to call it a gateway drug,” says Deborah Ripley, director of Bonhams auction house’s prints and multiples department. “It was where beginners in the art world started collecting, and that would encourage them: They might have been buying works at a lower price point, but they could tell their friends, ‘Yes, I have a work by Warhol.”
Prints might be an entry point into the art market, specialists say, but it’s increasingly clear that for many, the category has become a destination in itself over the last two years or so. “Off the top of my head, I’d say that 50 percent of every auction [is made up of] new bidders,” says Benrimon. That’s a lot of new people each time. “And that’s not after one or two auctions—that’s after 15 of them. And we just look at it, and we don’t get it: How is that possible?”
Reputation and Quality
As with every market, the prints market has tiers. There are very, very expensive prints, a few of which have sold for more than $1 million; there are merely expensive prints, which sell for six-figure sums; and there is the so-called “low market” of prints, effectively in the sub $15,000 range. Read more