Buying art online can at times be a minefield! With so much choice available it’s hard to know what to buy, let alone who to buy it from. Add on the multiple names for each technique and even the most dedicated art collector’s brain can get into a spin.
One of the ironies of the online art market is that it was supposed to make buying art easier and transparent, but with the explosion in choice and the multitude of offers now available, if anything it has become more confusing. 21st century buzzwords like “authenticity” and “original” are banded about, but for many art buyers these terms remain a mystery.
The good news of course is that there are few things more gratifying than building up your own art collection, and once you’ve mastered a few basic pointers you can’t really go wrong when buying artwork online.
Unique Pieces or Limited Edition Artworks?
A while ago David and Victoria Beckham bought a unique Damien Hirst butterfly painting for their daughter Harper’s first birthday. At £600,000 it is perhaps a little outside of most people’s budgets! Thankfully, Hirst produces a series of butterfly Silkscreen prints using foil block to add a vivid crispness to the works. They may not be unique, but are beautiful and utterly original and are numbered and signed by the artist.
But what is an Original and Authentic Artwork?
With the enormous expansion of the art market everyone now wants art for their home or working space. Alongside that growth many people choose to buy reproductions of artworks—Yuk! Only originals matter, only original artworks can accrue in value and don’t lose their potency and color! An original limited edition artwork is a piece of wonder, a finely-crafted collaboration between an artist and masterprinter and not simply a poster.
What’s the Difference Between a Poster and Print?
A poster is mass-produced, generally with offset and digital printers, and rarely signed and numbered. It also makes use of cheap paper and inks that will deteriorate in quality and are available at a fraction of the cost. Prints, on the other hand, are made to last. The process of collaboration can take months and a meticulous selection of archival-quality paper, inks, colors, techniques, and textures can see anything up to five different proofs being made before the actual editioning takes place. Unlike posters which can have an unlimited edition, prints such as Lithographs, are strictly controlled in the number that’s printed.
So what’s a Genuine Lithograph?
The term lithography refers to a plethora of methods which can cause confusion for even the most seasoned of collectors. In traditional lithography the image needs to be transferred by hand onto a stone plate in order to be printed. Once the printing has taken place a reputable printmaker will grain off the printing stones so that no further impressions can be added to the edition total.
The original lithograph must be the ONLY realization of an artistic idea, and cannot have been produced by any other means or technique. Occasionally, (just to add to the confusion) contemporary artists create original prints using Photo- and Offset-Lithography techniques. In this instance, and indeed in almost all cases, check the Provenance.
But what is the Provenance?
The provenance of a work proves its authenticity referring to its history and previous owners, if it is secondary market. This is of huge importance when buying artwork for sale online. A Certificate of Authenticity (COA) should be signed by the artist and will contain specific details about its production, such as whether it is a silkscreen print, its edition number, the artist’s name and publisher, the work’s title, dimensions, and the contact details of the entity issuing the certificate. Below are pictured two Proofs of Originality documents issued by fineartmultiple. In any case, above most other considerations the artist’s signature is of primary importance.
Nowadays nearly all limited edition paper works will be signed by the artist. If the signature is missing, inquire with the online art selling platform why it is not there. Often the signature will only be included on the Certificate of Authenticity. If the signature is not there inquire about the printer’s mark.
The Printer’s Mark
All good printshops have their own Chop Mark which is often embossed on the bottom left corner of a paper-based limited edition. The Chop Mark is the printer’s most valued symbol and with it their credibility is on the line. Reputable printers and publishers of original images refuse to work with reproductions and only work with artists images made specifically for an edition. The question is of course, who are these printmakers and which artists are they working with?
Good Artists only work with the best Printmakers
It goes without saying that top artists only want to work with the best printmakers. The Gemini G.E.L. workshop for instance is renowned for pushing the vision of artists who work there, who gain much from such a collaborative and challenging environment. These top printmakers will only allow their work to be sold through online platforms they totally trust.
Related article: Read about Richard Serra's collaboration with Gemini G.E.L.
But which Online Platform?
So it comes full-circle, you need to choose an online platform that has a great network of galleries, publishers, and printmakers who are in partnership with it. The highly-regarded Schellmann Art for instance only works with a select few online specialists.
Ultimately the decision is one you have to make yourself, but a company that is open about its backers and upfront about the founders and team behind it is a safer bet than a website where all the names are hidden.
• Certified artist originals, no reproductions
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By Dr. Nina Koidl — Head of Curation