The Breakdown

The $4,500 Art Prints

By Frances Dodds
March 14, 2018

What, and who, determines what art is worth? Assessing the pricing of a series of signed prints from eBay Collective’s Brooke Alexander Gallery

Starting an art collection can be a truly daunting task, and while online outlets offer endless hours of perusing in your pajamas, the new digital marketplace often leaves buyers to fend for themselves without insight from once essential middlemen: art dealers. Take this series of five signed prints by Richard Tuttle, “Perceived Obstacles,” selling for $4,500 from the Brooke Alexander Gallery in New York City. If you’re buying artwork, you’ve likely done some research and know some artists you love—but buying their unique work may be wildly unaffordable. A print, however, is a great opportunity for entry-level and experienced buyers alike to own a special piece of work. Barbara Baruch, the director of Brooke Alexander, sat down to give us the rundown on the value of these specific prints, and the print market in general.

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Artist’s name recognition: It goes without saying, but the single most important price indicator for artwork is the significance of the artist, and Richard Tuttle is a big deal. He’s lauded as a pioneer of the Postminimalist movement, and when he had his first exhibition survey at New York’s Whitney Museum in 1975, it was so controversial that the curator was fired. “You talk about him in the market as a very substantial artist,” Baruch says. “He’s had multiple retrospectives, and museum exhibitions all over the world. So here you have a series of five prints by a master artist.”

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Value of artist’s unique work and frequency of prints: “These prints are only $4,500, which is low for Richard, and they’re completely representative of the unique work he was doing in 1991,” says Baruch. “Pieces from the original work by the same name are going for $25,000, $30,000, $45,000. As a print publisher we create the prices, which are based on many things. Some publishers base them on a percentage or a formula of what the artist’s unique work would sell for, though I don’t think that would hold in this case because Richard’s done so many prints.” That’s why the cost is relatively modest.

Authenticity: “If you’re buying prints directly from the publisher, as you are here,” Baruch says, “then you should get what’s called a documentation sheet, which lists everything that artist ever made,” says Baruch. “So that is the authenticity you should ask for.”

Condition: “These prints are in pristine condition,” Baruch says. “It’s never been framed or hinged or taken out of the portfolio. For poetic license, the only people who have touched it are the artist and the publisher.” Baruch says with prints, condition is especially important to ask about if you’re buying something on the secondary market. “Prints are paper and paper goes through an aging process, so you want to be able to rely on the dealer to answer, is the color still bright or has it faded? Has the paper yellowed, or been exposed to light? Is there foxing or other deterioration?”

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Pro tips: Edition size doesn’t matter: The “Perceived Obstacles” prints are in an edition of 45, but the size—whether it’s an edition of 10 or 90—usually has no bearing on the price. “Unless it’s something really rare,” Baruch says, “edition size doesn’t matter. People often say, ‘Oh I don’t want to buy an edition of 50, that’s too big.’ But some of these prints have an edition size of 60, 75, 90—and you can’t find them. They’re all sold out, so the price is much higher.”

The particular number of a print in an edition also doesn’t matter: “Print No. 1 is the exact same price as print No. 35,’ Baruch says. “When prints are made, they’re not signed and numbered in the order in which they’re printed. They come off the press and they’re cleaned and scattered about to dry, and then the studio people make decisions about which ones are good or not, and then they put them in a stack and present them to the artist for signing. The only reason one print might be more expensive than another is because the edition has started to sell out.”

If you’re buying prints as investment pieces, it’s a bit of a risky endeavor, but if you do it, says Baruch, it’s safer to stick with well-known artists. “I never, never answer, is this a good investment?” Baruch says, “The truth is, if you’re paying $2,000 for a print, in 20 years it might be worth $2,000, but it might not be. But if that matters to someone, I would say it’s safer to buy something by Richard Tuttle, for example, than something by less of a Blue Chip, ‘brand name’ artist.”