Why the Market for Artist Prints Continues to Flourish
Julie Mehretu, Treatises on the Executed (from Robin’s Intimacy), 2022. Courtesy of Gemini G.E.L. at Joni Moisant Weyl.
Following two busy weeks of art fairs across Europe and Asia, the International Fine Print Dealers Association (IFPDA)’s annual Print Fair opens this Thursday to press and VIPs at the Javits Center in New York. As the world’s largest fair dedicated to printmaking, the event offers an opportunity to discover the most coveted works across generations and movements by leading artists and publishers. It also puts a spotlight on the state of the print market in general, one that industry leaders agree is currently experiencing a period of robust sales and creative growth.
“The IFPDA Print Fair is getting bigger and bigger every year; our pre-fair ticket sales are through the roof,” said David Tunick, president of the IFPDA and a New York–based Old Masters dealer. “The audience that attends is younger and younger. To be sure, they are mostly there for contemporary prints, and I’m happy no matter what brings them in. Despite changing tastes, I think the future of the print market is as strong as I can remember in my 57 years as a dealer.”
This year’s edition of the IFPDA Print Fair marks the event’s 30th anniversary and will bring together more than 90 exhibitors from seven countries presenting work that spans more than 550 years of art history. In a promising sign for the fair, Artsy’s recent Art Collector Insights 2023 report discovered that, amid a period of economic uncertainty, respondents placed a high importance on purchasing prints.
Interior view of IFPDA, 2022. Photo by Rich Lee. Courtesy of the IFPDA.
“There are undoubtedly signs the print market is both booming and growing in importance,” said Jenny Gibbs, executive director of the IFPDA. “A great example of growth is Hauser & Wirth, which recently opened a Chelsea gallery devoted to editions. There’s a reason blue-chip galleries are moving into the print industry, and they’re bringing more blue chip collectors with them.”
Opening a specialized gallery has provided Hauser & Wirth Editions with the opportunity to exhibit historic prints alongside unique works by artists in the program. Its current exhibition, “Louise Bourgeois: Once There Was a Mother,” for example, includes prints, sculptures, and installations that highlight the essential influence printmaking had on pushing the boundaries of the late artist’s practice. Exhibiting them with unique pieces, the show also contextualizes Bourgeois’s prints not as a parallel practice, but rather as part of her broader body of work.
“This new building solidifies our commitment to the medium and its practitioners,” said Anders Bergstrom, director of Hauser & Wirth Editions. “So many of the artists we work with are dedicated to printmaking—for many, it is a core focus of their practice—and their prints provide collectors with intimate access to the experiments, techniques and ideas these artists are working through.” Hauser & Wirth Editions will offer prints by Bourgeois at the fair, as well as a selection of works by artists including Mark Bradford, Rashid Johnson, and Mary Heilmann.
Another significant blue chip name in the print market is David Zwirner, one of the IFPDA’s newest members and a relative newcomer to publishing, having launched its printmaking arm, Utopia Editions, in 2021.
“We established Utopia Editions to support our gallery artists’ print practices, as well as to provide non-gallery artists with opportunities to make prints in collaboration with master printers—many for the first time,” said Elleree Erdos, director of prints and editions at the gallery.
This year, Utopia Editions published prints by Lucas Arruda and built new relationships with artists like Cynthia Talmadge and Hayley Barker to launch their first-ever editions. The gallery is exhibiting works by Talmadge and Barker at the IFPDA Print Fair alongside historical editions by Ruth Asawa.
“Through Utopia Editions, we’ve been able to reach a broad audience, which includes new collectors as well as those who have existing relationships with the gallery,” said Erdos.
Leading print publisher Two Palms echoed Erdos’s sentiments. “Prints are an excellent way for new collectors to dip their toes into buying,” said Alexandra Slattery, sales director at the gallery. “You can find prints at any price point, from a few hundred dollars to a few hundred thousand.”
Slattery noted that institutional exhibitions in recent years have increasingly included examples from artists’ print practices. In New York, current shows of Ed Ruscha at the Museum of Modern Art and Judy Chicago at the New Museum not only include prints and editions, but also programming and didactics to explain how printmaking is an integral part of their careers. Ruscha, for example, is participating in a conversation with Christophe Cherix, MoMA’s chief curator of drawings and prints, at the IFPDA Print Fair on Sunday. Many exhibitors also noted that museum curators and collection committees number among their regular buyers.
“I think that acknowledgement in an institutional setting encourages collectors to explore and acquire prints from those artists,” Slattery said. Like other print dealers and publishers, Two Palms sees an increase in interest in artists when they have institutional shows. Including prints in these exhibitions adds further prestige to the medium. “Prints are the best way to access work from in-demand artists. Prints are much more democratic; editioned works are more affordable, and even when works are not editioned, unique prints are typically priced lower than other original works on paper or paintings,” she added.
In addition to works by modern and contemporary artists, collectors also seem to be embracing older editions. “[Our speciality] is costly in comparison to most prints, but we have been experiencing very strong business,” said Tunick, who specializes in works on paper from Old Masters to the 20th century and is exhibiting a selection of coveted pieces by artists including Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt, and Edvard Munch. “Four or five buyers [who are] truly meaningful, serious, and new to us per year can be considered a lot. And that very honestly is what we’ve been seeing the last few years.”
With the IFPDA Print Fair opening this week, exhibitors and fair organizers are optimistic this momentum will translate to success. “I’m confident that visitors will leave with a better understanding of the significant role prints have in the art market,” Gibbs noted.