“With editions, the more you see the more you know, and the more you know the more interesting it becomes.”
Modern and contemporary art expert Honor Westmacott tells us about her love for editions and growing up with a print fanatic!
FAM: You are an expert in the fields of modern and contemporary art, but it seems to me that your first love is printing. Why is that exactly?
Honor Westmacott: My mother is a printmaker and teaches printmaking at an art academy near Bonn. She has been working in this field for decades and has even done a residency in Guanlan in China—there are some amazing print workshops near Shenzhen. I remember as a child that my piano had to go so that we could make room in the sitting room for mother’s printing press. I am still mildly traumatized!
You have worked for several auction houses around Germany. Could you tell us a little about your experience there as a print expert?
With editions, the more you see the more you know and the more you know the more interesting it becomes. I entered my career as a specialist, with a specific interest in prints and multiples. The auction house was the perfect school for me. The depth of scrutiny that collectors and dealers go into with prints is incredible, especially since there is a lot of lore and storytelling surrounding editions. The ones that are highly valuable and sought after today typically started off as quite inexpensive editions by young artists and were released by idealistic dealers or publishers.
Did you ever uncover something amazing?
Yes—I’ve uncovered some rare editions— always a joy! One of my favorites has to be the Stützmappe, a portfolio issued by Niels Borch Jensen in support of Contemporary Fine Arts back when they were a young gallery with money problems in 1995. It is such a great document of art market history so I was really glad when I could persuade a collector to buy it and keep it intact, rather than taking it apart and selling the prints individually, as sometimes happens with portfolios.
Occasionally fakes manage to sneak past the auction house experts, did you ever encounter any?
If you look at prints daily, you get a feel for them, and sometimes you just know straight away that it’s a fake. You can’t always immediately put your finger on why, but that’s when you start researching. In 2010-11 there was a wave of fake Roy Lichtensteins sweeping across Germany—they were being peddled to every auction house. Fakes often suddenly appear a few days before a catalog closes, when auction houses are in a bit of a rush to get them up. With these Lichtensteins, however, something was clearly up and it was only when inspected with a magnifying glass that one could see that they had been extremely well copied on an inkjet printer. Well configured and meticulously done. Anyway, we contacted all the other auction houses and the source was traced back to a consortium of fakers in Austria.
You told me before that Joseph Beuys’ Meerengel/Seegurke (Sea Cucumber) was the first piece in your collection, what made you decide to go for a Beuys limited edition?
Joseph Beuys was a fantastic printmaker and draughtsman. I always think sculptors make the best printmakers—they are so used to thinking in space and have a different approach to line. I got this through a collector I had been working with and I simply adore it. I am still so grateful to him. The wonderful thing about print collectors is that they know their stuff. He showed me what a shrewd businessman Beuys could be—he would make an edition of 75 on gray paper, another on white paper and yet another with a different margin size. It is then a matter of taste which version you prefer.
Your collection is a real mix of personal works made by family members and works by more renowned artists. Is this a purposeful arrangement?
The mix is intended in that the works all hang together, but it is really just an organic develoment. Not all these works were bought by me, some were presents or payments, or some I just asked to have. Really they are just what I like and whether the artist is famous or not is not important. It’s always the work itself, its visual merit and, of course, the personal connection I have with it. That said, there are of course still some pieces on my wishlist which I’ll happily share with anyone looking for my next birthday present...
You also once had your own project room?
Yes, I once organized a big consignment of Expressionist works on paper and got a small commission which I promptly pumped into my project room, called, unsurprisingly, Honor Westmacott in 2004-5. It made absolutely no money because I still had a lot to learn about the art market, but I worked with some great artists including Alexandra Schlund. To thank me for writing her catalog text she gave me a beautiful piece as a present.
You have put together two seascapes here by Shonah Trescott and Eberhardt Havekost—one is a fairly serene photograph and the other a more tempestuous painting. There is a playfulness to putting these contrasting works together, is that something you like to do?
Trescott’s work is actually an antarctic landscape and I just read an antarctic explorer’s description of what he called “white darkness”—where you have to feel your way—and I guess that is something you’d associate with the sea. The Eberhardt Havekost seascape is in a way much calmer! I do like the contrast but I tend to hang works instinctively rather than intellectually. I take ages deciding what goes where but once I’ve started I’m really fast and really certain, and it tends to work well. The piece by Shonah Trescott is one that I bought at an opening. I really hadn’t intended to buy anything, but I fell in love with it and simply had to have it. I left shaking a little at my own spontaneity but was very pleased! She’s definitely an artist to watch.
You mentioned before that you like to buy artwork as presents, do you do this for your family as well?
Absolutely! This work Sleeping Child by Josef Scharl—who was a lesser known Expressionist—I bought for my firstborn. Buying prints or multiples for your children is a lovely way of starting them off with their own little “collection”. They need not be expensive works but if you give a child some art throughout their childhood, they will already have something truly special by the time they turn 18.
What piece particularly stands out for you in your collection?
Ha, well that would have to be the one by my mother Victoria Westmacott-Wrede. Garten from 2008 is one of my favorite examples of my mother’s printmaking. The etching is incredibly intricate and detailed, looking at it you always discover new depths. My children adore it, they told me they want to “visit it soon”. It is a perfect example of how this traditional technique can be used in contemporary printmaking.