Monday, July 17, 2006

The Oddly Public Dissing of Print Dealers

As reported in the Art Newspaper, the organizers of the Frieze Art Fair in London have announced that they won't invite any print dealers as exhibitors this year. Apparently, The Armory Show may follow suit. Having cut my teeth, so to speak, in a works-on-paper gallery, I have a deep respect for the traditions and importance of prints. Contemporary prints are a vital part of the overall dialog. I don't mind saying, I find this decision jaw-droppingly short-sighted. More odd though is why they chose to announce it at all. Here's their rationale:

The organisers of Frieze have sent a letter to print publishers such as Alan Cristea, Paragon Press and Two Palms saying that “a certain category” of exhibitor will not be admitted this year. The reasons given are that “prints don’t look good in a fair”, and that the dealers do not have “primacy of representation” of the artists they show.
I think that explanation actually raises more questions than it answers. What if a non-print-focussed dealer does have primacy of representation, is he/she permitted to exhibit prints by said artist in his/her booth? What if that artist is so incredibly in demand that prints are the only works available at the time of the fair? And how on earth can one claim that "prints don't look good in a fair"? Doesn't it depend on the print in question, many of which are virtually indistinguishable from drawings or photographs in terms of presentation? Do they mean that prints don't look expensive? And what about some of the interesting developments in three-dimensional printmaking? Are such artworks also considered unwanted? Most fair applications request concept proposals: what if a print dealer proposed a groundbreakingly fresh installation? The article continues:

There are also indications that the Armory show in New York may follow suit. The fair’s communications director Pamela Doan said: “We will be discussing with the Selection Committee how to maximise the space for participants. We do not have clear plans to announce yet about how we will include print dealers in The Armory Show 2007. It will probably be different to 2006, though,” she said.
I'm not sure The Amory Show's response is necessarily parallel here. They've been cutting back the number of galleries they invite the past few years, and most gallerists I know expect it to be even harder for everyone to get in moving forward, so I read their response in that light. If indeed they do single out print dealers for exclusion, that will be another matter.

But Frieze's explanation for the announement makes no sense to me, and I'm not the only one:

“It is completely ludicrous,” says Alan Cristea. “Art fairs are full of multiples: sculpture, photography, even a lot of paintings incorporate printing techniques. This excludes all the people who have the specialised knowledge.”

“This is an sign of an overheated, cliquey market, and it is incredibly short-sighted,” says Charles Booth-Clibborn, founder of Paragon. “Buyers often start with prints: they are a seedbed for future collectors.” David Lasry of Two Palms is “fuming”. He said: “This is the way the entire market is going, they want to push us out to make way for paintings dealers.”

The irony, notes Mr Cristea, is that Frieze’s main sponsor is Deutsche Bank, noted for its fine corporate collection—predominantly of prints.
Of course the organizers of any fair are fully entitled to craft the look and feel of the fair as they see fit, but why make a point of announcing that you're excluding print dealers (bleeding-edge projects often emerge from the last place you'd expect them to). Why not simply not invite them if their application is not what they're looking for? No fair is obligated to explain its selection choices. This "print dealers need not apply" announcment looks to be a public downgrading of the importance of prints, which in turn seems to be about the market for paintings and other more costly works of art. As Booth-Clibborn notes, this is a disservice to collectors just starting out, many of whom begin with prints.

Another reason this is short-sighted is that should the art market crash and many galleries go out of business, the fairs will most likely want to open their doors back up to the surviving dealers, regardless of what their primary product is. At that point, who could blame the print dealers for responding with a similarly very public dis?


Blogger Mark said...

Do they feel that prints diminish the value of the original work? Can a gallery show paintings and prints? Pssst, hey buddy check out my flat file.

7/17/2006 10:59:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Well, I see prints as "original" work, Mark. Multiples are often as complex and compelling as unique works, in my opinion. Singling them out suggests the print dealers are right: this is an effort to push them out to make way for paintings (read more expensive products [which isn't even necessarily true, but that's the perception]) dealers.

I just don't see why they had to do it publically. It's insulting for no good reason IMO, it builds resentment, it may come back to bite them, etc. etc. etc. I can't fathom the reasoning behind it.

7/17/2006 11:04:00 AM  
Anonymous bambino said...

I am surprised and dunno what to say..........

7/17/2006 11:13:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

That's what I was referring to, the percieved higher value of the canvas, which is probably true in many cases. I make prints as well as paint and see them as a complete process, equally important.

7/17/2006 11:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Ethan said...

Mark, I'm wondering if you're thinking of prints that are mechanical reproductions of paintings as opposed to fine art prints that are original works (lithographs, monoprints, etc.).

7/17/2006 12:05:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Ethan, I think Mark clarified my original question with his follow-up statement (not sure if you saw that...the comments sometimes get stuck, but I get emails of them).

7/17/2006 12:10:00 PM  
Anonymous ml said...

If the problem with prints is that they aren't on canvas, then drawings will be banished next.

Maybe it's just easier to banish prints as a whole rather than have art police go around making sure the prints are an original edition and not giclees. The technology has gotten so good the reproductions are hard to distinguish from some originals and are marketed in editions too.

Since it takes time to work up applications for participation, in some ways it's more honest for the Frieze people to state their prejudices and save galleries which promote prints the time and anticipation.

7/17/2006 12:21:00 PM  
Blogger highlowbetween said...

Considering the quality and artistic merit of the work done by Two Plams Press - just to name one - this is really absurd. I think these fairs maybe getting too powerful.

7/17/2006 12:34:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Since it takes time to work up applications for participation, in some ways it's more honest for the Frieze people to state their prejudices and save galleries which promote prints the time and anticipation.

That had occurred to me, as well, ML, but I'm still not sure the nature of their prejudice (as stated, anyway) makes sense. Again, if a print dealer is working with contemporary artists, and can rise to the fair's installation/innovation/quality standards, why single prints out in this manner? They're as valid/important an art object as any other, IMO. At the very least distinquishing between prints and photographs is a market-driven, artificial distinction at which that printmakers have every right to take offense.

Primacy of representation might be the more important factor driving this (i.e., primary dealers might not like print dealers cashing in on the cache of their stars in this context). But even that makes no sense when I really think about it.

I guess if I had to narrow my objections here it would be to the statement that prints don't "look good in a fair." That's simply ridiculous.

7/17/2006 12:36:00 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Can primary dealers show prints?

7/17/2006 01:23:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Can primary dealers show prints?

Do you mean at Frieze? That's a good question.

7/17/2006 02:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Simply put the free market has turned canvas, original!
Should we argue with that?

7/18/2006 09:19:00 AM  
Blogger John Morris said...

Just, don't know what to say. I fully agree with Ed and I hope the elitist art world gets the punishment it deserves. It actually may be more corrupt than I thought.

The next time the market crashes. I hope this will be remembered.

7/18/2006 05:01:00 PM  
Blogger John Morris said...

Also, as someone who did drawings ( which people still don't pay for ) prints were what seemed the last chance to make a living.

7/18/2006 05:05:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Gusky said...

I didn't see this anywhere, so please delete if this is redundant --

Might the problem have been that there were beaucoup des applicants in the "print" category who were offering Vasarely posters, the Saul Steinberg "New Yorker" cover poster and "limited editions" of 50,000-plus?

I'm wondering because with the feeding frenzy in the market, it wouldn't surprise me one bit if the event organizers did't get snowed over with thousands of applications from low-grade print houses, had a hard time distinguishing them from legitimate print studios, and finally just decided in a fit of exhaustion, "What the hell, let's just nix the entire category and get some sleep."

Does that seem likely at all?

7/18/2006 05:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

Pff...stupid stupid fairs.

No wonder I never visit them.

If gallerists present in fairs a melting (more like melted) pot bouquet of works by their flag artists I see no reason why not include 2 or 3 print specialists per fair.

The best people to respond to this are artists. They should work with prints exclusively for a while and laugh. Come on Kiki, you can do it!!

It is irony that museums now are presenting retros of prints (Rubens, etc..), probably because they can't afford to present painting anymore, but that doesn't mean the artistry sucks.

Cedric Caspesyan

7/19/2006 11:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. If the organizers really can't tell the difference between a fine art printshop and a reproduction house then that's just pure laziness on their part.
2. Prints aren't always multiples, especially if you're talking about three-dimensional printmaking
3. Printmakers are used to being treated as second-class citizens in the art market. This is one reason why many printmakers I know are wary of identifying themselves as such.

7/27/2006 10:36:00 PM  

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