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Author Topic: Art Investment World's Pants Dropped Once More in Public  (Read 4017 times)
RSL
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« on: September 29, 2012, 10:21:00 AM »
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Thought some of y'all might be interested in this article in Saturday's Wall Street Journal. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444813104578018450000238738.html?mod=googlenews_wsj. The article publicly drops the pants of the fine art investment world once again. Seems Eggleston is being sued by a "collector" because Eggleston has come out with a new edition of prints, including his "Memphis (Tricycle)," a copy of which the collector owns. The collector is claiming the new edition will lower the resale value of the earlier prints. WOW! Imagine that: art degraded by familiarity.

It also looks as if Cindy Sherman's going to make a bunch more bucks on another incredibly boring picture. Wonder where Gursky is in this comedy?

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Slobodan Blagojevic
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« Reply #1 on: September 29, 2012, 12:19:34 PM »
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... Imagine that: art degraded by familiarity...

No, Russ, art is not degraded by familiarity (otherwise, Mona Lisa would be worthless today). However, the price of limitied-edition art is degraded by an abundance of it.

As for the Eggleston court case, PDN had a decent article recently, illuminating (many) pros and cons of it. It seems far from certain that the collector has a winnable legal standing. Even ethically it is far from clear which side is right. One thing seems certain though: the concept of limited edition remains just as murky as it has always been.
« Last Edit: September 29, 2012, 12:28:37 PM by Slobodan Blagojevic » Logged

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« Reply #2 on: September 29, 2012, 12:45:09 PM »
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Right, Slobodan. The same thought occurred to me when I was writing that, but paintings are one-of-a-kind. You can copy a painting and you can photograph a painting, but no matter how many copies you make there's only one original. With photography the original is the negative or the digital file. So when someone starts producing more copies from a negative or digital file the unusualness of prior prints goes down, and, in the investor's world the value of the print goes down. Same thing with stamps. If you have a rare stamp and more copies show up the price drops.

My question is: did Eggleston put out a "limited edition" of the tricycle? If he did, the ethical conundrum becomes less murky.

To me, the whole idea of a "limited edition" of a photograph is absurd, not murky. If you're printing an etching, it makes sense to limit the edition since the plate deteriorates as you proceed with the edition. But a negative doesn't deteriorate appreciably with use, and a digital file doesn't deteriorate at all with use. So "limiting" an edition of photographic prints doesn't mean a damn thing unless you destroy the negative or permanently delete the file. How many photographers actually do that? I guess Brett Weston did, but he's the only one I've ever heard of doing that. In photography the whole idea of a limited edition is to make the prints precious, and as long as the negative or file exists the edition isn't guaranteed to be limited.

None of this crap has anything to do with the actual value of a work of art. The value is in what the work does for you, not how much you paid for it.
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WalterEG
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« Reply #3 on: September 29, 2012, 03:02:50 PM »
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The value is in what the work does for you, not how much you paid for it.

Oh that that were true Russ,

I have met many collectors who couldn't give a toss about anything but the collectibility of the 'name'.  That is partly exemplified by those with the bucks to buy a low numbered copy of each of a series.  Clearly art as commodity.

W
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Slobodan Blagojevic
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« Reply #4 on: September 29, 2012, 03:52:36 PM »
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... a low numbered copy of each of a series...

What's the perceived significance of a low numbered copy?
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Slobodan

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« Reply #5 on: September 29, 2012, 04:00:51 PM »
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Clearly art as commodity.

Exactly, Walter. I always wonder why these folks don't collect coins instead of "art." Rare coins have prices that run well up into the "art as commodity" range, they're easier to carry around and show to other collectors, you can put them in a safe deposit box and pretty much eliminate the risk of theft or chance destruction, and they'll outlast most paintings and all photographs. Perhaps best of all you don't have to hang them on the wall and look at them.
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RSL
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« Reply #6 on: September 29, 2012, 04:03:03 PM »
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What's the perceived significance of a low numbered copy?

With an etching the significance is supposed to be that the first print off the plate is the best one and they all go downhill from there. With a photograph there's no significance other than the fact that if the guy paid a premium price for a low numbered copy he's dumber than the average bear.
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WalterEG
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« Reply #7 on: September 29, 2012, 04:10:22 PM »
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What's the perceived significance of a low numbered copy?

Hi Slobodan,

I think this is a double sided argument:  the VENDOR (artist) often increases the price as sales progress and the limited edition gets closer to a sell-out (I know, for example, that Michael Kenna sets a scale on this basis); the PURCHASER, however, seems to more highly regard number 1 or number 2 out of an edition.  Why?  I can't be sure, but I have been proudly told by some that they have a low numbered copy and that it is more saleable.

The important fact is that it is all to do with commodity trading and sweet FA about image quality or content.  Well, perhaps marginal concern.

In my commercial work shooting architecture I do go into many houses which are essentially private galleries and the owners love to discuss their trophies and the acquisition and disposal of same with a 'photographer'.

W
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Robert Roaldi
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« Reply #8 on: September 29, 2012, 05:23:57 PM »
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I wonder if we'll ever see prices go UP with later editions or print runs. Since we can expect that inkjet printers will improve with time, later print runs may be improvements on the early ones, unlike etchings.

What if viewing screens become so good that people stop buying prints altogether (or at least the number that do will round to zero)?  How will we decide what an early edition is then.

What if the photographer gets a new version of their imaging editing program and it allows him/her to make a better image? What happens to the earlier crappier versions, will they attain cult status?
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Sareesh Sudhakaran
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« Reply #9 on: September 29, 2012, 10:38:16 PM »
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I wonder if we'll ever see prices go UP with later editions or print runs. Since we can expect that inkjet printers will improve with time, later print runs may be improvements on the early ones, unlike etchings.

What if viewing screens become so good that people stop buying prints altogether (or at least the number that do will round to zero)?  How will we decide what an early edition is then.

What if the photographer gets a new version of their imaging editing program and it allows him/her to make a better image? What happens to the earlier crappier versions, will they attain cult status?

+1
The iPad is already a great viewing screen isn't it? Maybe there's a latent market for a premium 10-bit 20x30 LED panel with 4K resolution (12MP).
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Rob C
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« Reply #10 on: September 30, 2012, 10:03:23 AM »
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I think that the art world doesnít work to normal business rules Ė if there really ever were any Ė and that itís all opinion driven and possibly fear related too.

Whatever anyone thinks of the idea of editions, they are here and probably to stay. Why would any artist, whose medium allows the choice, ever let his children die or, worse, destroy them himself just to limit the size of an edition? That negative, transparency or digital file is all that he can control once prints are out there in the wider world. That someone may copy his original print wouldnít be new; folks have been doing that for commercial reproduction for ages, and the technology is very advanced and not just a matter of somebody trying to do it at home with a camera and a micro/macro lens!

Neither do I think that the matter of newer, later PSing capabilities, better printing machines and so forth matter at all insofar as the monetary value of an Ďartí print is concerned: nobody bought a Van Gogh because they thought he had the finest paints and brushes at his disposal. Itís all character/history/notoriety driven.

Reverting for a microsecond to the matter of keeping or destroying originals: more than one photographer has actually done that: Brian Duffy was one such, and in my own relatively modest way, so did I when I left the UK to live abroad. Your life can only cope with so much baggage. With the benefit of hindsight, I should indeed have clung onto my fashion shots if only because I now have absolutely nothing in that genre left to show, and it was a very big part of my professional life Ė volume-wise, probably much more so than calendars if not as profitable. And there may even have been some commercial value to that old 60s/70s fashion material today.

In recent years, I made some original paintings with the intention of working them up as photographs into what I thought Iíd like to achieve. Once photographed, it hurt me not at all to destroy the original paintings and put fresh paints on top of where the old ones had lain. Why didnít it hurt? Because they were never meant to live as artworks in their own right. Guess itís all about intent.

Rob C
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Rob C
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« Reply #11 on: September 30, 2012, 10:12:55 AM »
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+1
The iPad is already a great viewing screen isn't it? Maybe there's a latent market for a premium 10-bit 20x30 LED panel with 4K resolution (12MP).


Personally, I think that things like monitors or screens of any sort are a discussional distraction insofar as the real world goes. Why on Earth would I pay to have something on a computer or a screen or any other second-hand medium of viewing? It sounds to me as the ultimate downmarketing of art; and where the important concept of possesion?

I think it equates with the collecting of art postcards and cheap prints. Stuff you could buy in any DIY store but, in that form, never conceive of as art or as something with intrinsic value.

It's as bad as having Sumo on your Kindle.  Bloody pathetic, IMO.

Rob C
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Patricia Sheley
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« Reply #12 on: September 30, 2012, 07:32:09 PM »
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Right, Slobodan.
To me, the whole idea of a "limited edition" of a photograph is absurd, not murky. If you're printing an etching, it makes sense to limit the edition since the plate deteriorates as you proceed with the edition. But a negative doesn't deteriorate appreciably with use, and a digital file doesn't deteriorate at all with use. So "limiting" an edition of photographic prints doesn't mean a damn thing unless you destroy the negative or permanently delete the file. How many photographers actually do that? I guess Brett Weston did, but he's the only one I've ever heard of doing that. In photography the whole idea of a limited edition is to make the prints precious, and as long as the negative or file exists the edition isn't guaranteed to be limited.

None of this crap has anything to do with the actual value of a work of art. The value is in what the work does for you, not how much you paid for it.

Yes, I remember the AA discussion about the same, and Edward Weston in the 30's deciding to limit to no more than fifty. In the 70's AA, at the time of Portfolio Vl agreed to an edition of 100 and then ran a Wells Fargo check canceler across the negatives.He came to believe it was wrong and that  "I cannot accept the value of artificially produced scarcity as more important than creative production."
« Last Edit: September 30, 2012, 09:42:04 PM by Patricia Sheley » Logged

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Rob C
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« Reply #13 on: October 01, 2012, 03:55:21 AM »
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It's a difficult one, Patricia, but for it to mean anything, you have to be in the position of actually having an existing market for your stuff, or it's just another theoretical conceit, part of the belief that one may be an artist after all.

Really, the decision has to be business-based. If burning the originals helps boost the price of your edition, great; if it doesn't, then it's mindless vandalism that'll return to haunt you.

Perhaps if we were in a situation where only professional art photographers sold their pix as art, then there might be a reason for making a single print at the original's best magnification and destroying the original after that. It would make sense, save clutter and achieve a better price per print by ensuring an exclusive element. However, since all photographers are now in competition, that stability will never exist again - I think - and so all rules and ways of conducting the photo business are off.

Inevitably, it comes down to the ancient conflict between selling one at a high figure or many at a low. Mass production, then, versus fine art?

Rob C
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« Reply #14 on: October 01, 2012, 04:48:08 AM »
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Inevitably, it comes down to the ancient conflict between selling one at a high figure or many at a low. Mass production, then, versus fine art?
Rob C
Historically, some painters had two bob each way on this one, producing some unique paintings but also doing copies of others through their studios and using etchings or engravings or woodcuts or other kinds of prints to produce more or less limited editions. This allowed them to make money from a larger proportion of the buying public and give more people the pleasure of living with their work. Uniqueness would increase the commercial value of the unique item but not necessarily the commercial return from the artistic idea. As long as items aren't sold under false pretences surely there is no problem with either approach.

And while the commercial art world no doubt deserves all the scorn and ridicule it gets, I think we need to be careful about the relationship between commercial value and artistic value (and particularly careful about seeing it through the prism of any notion that art is good and pure and commerce vile and dirty and not being able to sell your work is proof of its value). Of course commercial value and artistic value are different things, but in the long term, surviving objects with a high degree of the one almost always tend to have a high degree of the other as well. A painter's best work commands higher prices than her mistakes and the paintings which sell for vast prices are usually pretty good.

The Eggleston example which Rob links seems to me to be essentially about breach of contract or something like that rather than about any artistic issue. It would be very much at home in a thread about the trials and tribulations of running a photography business, or many other varieties of business. There are probably a few issues a purchaser could sue a photographer about - durability, for example, the print fading, or misrepresenting the subject. If, example, a paparazzo (is that the singular?) took a shot of any old bum and sold it as depicting the Duchess of Cambridge's bum, that would surely be actionable.
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Sareesh Sudhakaran
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« Reply #15 on: October 01, 2012, 11:11:43 PM »
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Why on Earth would I pay to have something on a computer or a screen or any other second-hand medium of viewing? It sounds to me as the ultimate downmarketing of art; and where the important concept of possesion?

You have a valid point. For the sake of argument:

  • What if the art was created for a digital display?
  • What if the digital display best represents the vision of the artist?
  • What if the digital version 'outclasses' the print side by side?
  • What if the digital device can last hundreds of years?

Obviously these are hypothetical questions. However, the progression of digital display technology is in this direction.

Regarding possession, one could argue that only the elite can truly possess great works of art. Seeing a work of art in a museum or a rich man's gallery is not possession but a privilege. It's the kind of privilege I can do without.

I don't see how having a million copies of art can hurt it if each and every copy is of the same quality. Isn't that a truer kind of possession? If all 7 billion people of this planet wanted a copy of every work of art (and who can deny them this right), then the digital medium attempts to fulfill this dream (maybe just mine), and will also save a billion trees in the process.

Just a thought, not looking to antagonise.
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« Reply #16 on: October 02, 2012, 06:51:23 AM »
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Why on Earth would I pay to have something on a computer or a screen or any other second-hand medium of viewing? It sounds to me as the ultimate downmarketing of art; and where the important concept of possesion?


I see your point in the case of a painting, but for a photo why would a screen display be anymore a second-hand medium than printing it on paper? And though all these issues affect the buying and selling price, I don't see why they would downmarket the artistic value. The art is what it is, its price in the marketplace is something else.

As for the concept of possession, maybe that concept is changing. I cannot certainly predict (or even sometimes understand) where things are heading. But we keep trying to draw parallels between photographs and paintings, at least insofar as purchase/selling, but maybe that's no longer valid (or as valid, assuming it ever was).
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Rob C
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« Reply #17 on: October 02, 2012, 12:49:45 PM »
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Well, for a start, I see no actual valid difference between a painting and a photograph since they are supposed to be a representation of something, a representation that can be hung on a wall or placed in an album or printed in a book or magazine. And on the wall, it's always accessible, even during a powercut, at least in the daytime. As has been pointed out, an image in either medium is not guaranteed to be totally unique insofar as copies goes...

There's a tactile quality to print that screen lacks, and for me at least, that quality is part and parcel of the appeal of the thing. But, regarding the concept of ownership, I do find that a very strong factor in the discussion: I like to own my things.

But as you say, who knows where contemporary ideas and mores will lead us; I somehow don't think I'm going to like it.

;-(

Rob C
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PierreVandevenne
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« Reply #18 on: October 02, 2012, 03:03:48 PM »
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The virtual "goods market" is literally exploding. Almost half of the men in the 13-34 years range has bought virtual goods this year. My 12 yo son recently "hacked" his mother's smartphone in order to acquire virtual goods. 47 of the 50 top grossing games in the Apple Store are Free-To-Play but get their revenue from in-game sales of virtual goods. In a way, software licenses were always virtual. Books are going virtual (see paperback vs kindle books on Amazon), music and movies as well. And, imho, it is only a start. I love books, their smell, their bindings, I own zillions of them: yet, I buy more on my kindle than I buy physically.

I'd go as far as saying that in today's world, the desire to own physical objects is often based on mostly virtual criterias: the iPhone 5 is not functionally different from the 4th, the 3rd or even the 1st. What people are paying for is for the _experience_ of owning it, knowing very well they will pay again for the experience next year or so. Incidentally, the purpose of most of the changes between 1 and 5 has been to make our experience of virtual goods better. More pixels. Faster download speed, permanent access. Less waiting. Etc...

It's extremely hard to see where this is going and what this will mean for items we hang around our houses or collect. I enjoy ownership and derive pleasure from looking at/touching some of the pieces I own. But it is clear that for the young generation, a rare virtual item (say a "unique wand of so and so") in some game is more valuable than my first Flammarion editions.

In a way, painting -> photography -> digital art -> direct neural representation seems an unescapable sequence, and direct neural representation is today roughly at the stage computers were when Babbage conceived the Difference Engine... 
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RSL
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« Reply #19 on: October 02, 2012, 03:50:45 PM »
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Oh dear, think what that'll do to Christies and Sotheby's. Better not invest in paintings or fine art photographs. The bottom's obviously about to drop out. Better invest in 84" TV screens.
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