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Edition - A Generic Term for a Specific Artwork Series

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May 6, 2015

Starting with defining the term itself, we can say that edition presents a certain number of prints made from one plate. It can be open edition, meaning that the prints were made until the plate wears off, or limited, with a pre-determined number of prints. The first print of an edition is called artist’s proof, and since it’s pulled off a fresh plate, it is the most sharp and the most colorful of the bunch, and for that reason 10-30 percent more expensive. In modern offset printing practice, nearly all the editions are identical, but still the artist’s proof maintains its value. Artist’s proof is not counted in the total number of the limited edition, and the number of artist’s proof can be larger than twenty, but, by convention, they are not to be sold all at once.

edition created paper printed
Shepard Fairey – These Sunsets are to Die For, courtesy of Phillips

Development and the continuity of the Concept

The reason of the development of such a concept is not that vague and it is deeply rooted in the economical status of artists through centuries. In order to make more money, the artists were producing multiple copies of their works. The editions were cheaper and faster to produce, and they were more marketable than, for example, an original oil painting. Other reason for emergence of such a concept was the book printing industry, for which the artists were producing editions intended to be embedded in books. One of the first important editions were the aquatints made by Goya, the first ones that were published in limited edition series. After his death, the original Goya plates were reworked, and the printing off of these plates was continued, although the quality was non-matchable. Nowadays, artists are more technically equipped, but at the same time more market aware. Even if modern techniques do not allow them to make as much copy as possible, without any quality loss, the artists, such as Andy Warhol, were putting limits to their editions in order to make them more exclusive and a lot more expensive on the market. Salvador Dali, for example, had the craze for edition making, earning a lot of money on a huge amount of signed copies.

edition created paper printed
The Etchings of Francisco Goya, courtesy of pomona.edu

Limits of the Concept

Due to its technical nature, editions are not limited by media as much as by the dimensions. Since it is intended to lower the costs and generally to make to process more profitable, a large scale works are not common in this practice.Sculpture is no stranger to the practice of limited editions. Once the cast is made, it can take up to several uses for making the sculptures in bronze or other material. Emergence of the modern molding materials allowed the creating editions of sculptures not only in the traditional materials, but in acrylic and many other oil derivatives.Other limitations concern art dealers and art collectors a bit more. As we mentioned before, proportionally with the size of a limited edition, the price of a single print can fluctuate, and it is not that easy to acquire the artist’s proof (considered to be the gem). Luckily for the art dealers and for the artists, and unfortunately for the collectors, a new trend emerged. Today, more and more artists, in order to get more profit out of their ingenious works, they have started printing editions with the limitation of 1. In other words, edition became the original. It is not that uncommon to see Banksy’s one-print edition to be sold on an auction for a 5-digit price.

edition available created paper printed
Banksy – Applause, courtesy of Widewalls

Editions Saved Street Artists

Limited editions signed by the artists and prints popularity, especially those by the street artists went through the roof in the last couple of years. As seen in the Exit Through the Gift Shop, the frenzy for owning a piece of street art started reinventing the meaning of street art itself. That’s where the street artists such as Banksy, Shepard Fairey, KAWS, Mr.Brainwash  recognized their opportunity and started producing limited number of prints which are sold on auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s for quite satisfying amounts of money. One might tell that this concept saved street artists financially and definitely started to shape a whole new way of valuing the art.

Since we, at Widewalls, are very passionate about our collection and collecting the editions, you can expect to read a lot more about both during the month of May!

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All images are for illustrative purposes only.