A New Dawn for Prints

The world of prints and multiples is finally getting its time in the spotlight after centuries of confusion. The transformation is driven by the latest IFPDA Print Fair in New York and significant moves by mega-galleries, marking a potential shift in this often-overlooked art category.

The main challenge in the prints and multiples market is the persistent misconception that they are mere copies of original works. This misconception has plagued the industry since the 18th century when mass reproductions of artworks began.

Jenny Gibbs, the executive director of the International Fine Print Dealers Association (IFPDA), emphasizes that prints are artworks in their own right, not copies. The misconception that artists are absent from the printmaking process persists, perpetuated by the idea that prints are merely posters of paintings.

The misperception also impacts the market value of prints. There is an economic bias that works on paper are generally valued lower than those on canvas, further complicating the understanding of the category. The market value of a work often dictates whether it’s considered a print or a painting, especially in the million-dollar range.

Uniqueness is another criterion for determining whether a work is considered a print. Monoprints, one-of-a-kind pieces made using a printing technique, often carry different values compared to unique works created in a similar manner.

Major galleries have entered the prints and multiples space, with three of the four mega-galleries establishing dedicated entities for publishing and exhibiting such works. While some worry about the impact of mega-galleries on smaller print publishers, the dynamics of the prints and multiples business differ significantly.

Print publishers often work with a network of print shops, and the most innovative printshops have become nonprofit entities affiliated with universities, allowing them to prioritize experimentation over profitability.

The collaborative relationship between artists and master printers is another factor that makes small, revered print shops resilient against competition from mega-galleries. Artists value the unique bond formed through time and expertise shared with their trusted printers.

Featured image: Stephanie M. Santana Pressure (2021), screenprint and cotton textile collage on hand-toned 280gsm Rives BFK paper. Courtesy of Black Women of Print


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