Print fair a place for aspiring collectors to start

April 22, 1994|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

Yes, there are good buys in the art market.

Unlikely as it may seem, prints of the 1960s and 1970s by artists as famous as David Hockney, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist and Ed Ruscha can be found in the $1,000 range.

"Without question," said Robert Monk.

Another good buying philosophy, said Mr. Monk, head of Sotheby's contemporary print department, is to go after "young, upcoming artists, such as Kiki Smith, Felix Gonzales-Torres, Jack Pierson, John Beerman."

Mr. Monk spoke Sunday at the Baltimore Museum of Art on the subject of collecting contemporary prints as a prelude to the museum's contemporary print fair this weekend.

LTC Visitors to the fair will find plenty of "wonderful early works of the 1960s and 1970s, and [works by] today's younger artists," he noted.

Be wary, however, of big, overproduced prints of the 1980s by establishedartists, said Mr. Monk. These were sold at inflated prices to collectors eager to buy for investment purposes. When the art market bubble burst at the end of the 1980s, these prints declined in value. A Hockney print that once sold for more than $100,000, for instance, is now in the $20,000 range.

Even though their prices are lower, Mr. Monk said he would still be a "little leery" of such 1980s works.

The Baltimore Contemporary Print Fair, now in its fifth year, is an excellent place for neophyte and established collectors to buy, said Mr. Monk, who used to be a print dealer himself before joining Sotheby's in 1992.

"My feeling is that it's becoming the print fair in the United States," he said. "There is a range of people; venerable dealers such as Brooke Alexander. People such as Barbara Krakow of Boston, who have younger artists such as Kiki Smith. People such as Matthew Marks, who have young classics such as Roni Horn and Brice Marden. And people such as Julie Sylvester, who have far-out editions."

In all, there will be 23 print dealers on hand, and they'll have contemporary art, or work produced since about 1960.

The Baltimore fair is the only one of its kind in the United States, said Jan Howard, BMA associate curator of prints. "There are print fairs with old master to contemporary prints, and there are contemporary art fairs with paintings and sculpture as well as works on paper, but ours is the only one in the country exclusively of contemporary prints."

Mr. Monk cited "the wonderful curators" as yet another advantage to the print fair. The museum's print curators, Jay Fisher and Ms. Howard, and painting and sculpture curator Brenda Richardson will be on hand to advise prospective buyers.

"There's a wonderful unspoken advantage to having that fair in this museum," he said.

Prints are original works of art produced in multiples, generally in small editions of up to 50 impressions, usually signed and numbered by the artist. "When you're looking at a print, you're not looking at a secondary work," said Ms. Howard. "It's as exciting and original as any other medium, only more than one person owns them."

Mr. Monk's talk Sunday was billed "Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Collecting Original Prints, But Were Afraid To Ask." The event produced solid advice.

Aside from what to buy, Mr. Monk discussed how aspiring collectors can learn about prints. "Begin looking at what you really like. Then broaden your horizons -- look at what is most disturbing, at what you most dislike. Look a lot before you read a lot. Look and then read."

In terms of looking, he said, "Be in contact with as many dealers as possible." But also use the museum's collection. "Most museum print rooms will be more than happy to show you 5 to 10 prints," he said.

As for reading, Mr. Monk and Ms. Howard recommended local libraries' fine arts sections, catalogs put out by publishers, dealers, museums and auction houses, as well as the Print Collector's Newsletter, a bimonthly publication. The BMA's library is available to the public on an appointment basis.

When considering a print, Mr. Monk said, the prospective buyer should consider a variety of questions: "Is this artist very involved in print-making? How does this print fit into the whole of the artist's work? Do you think that's really a fair price, and are the artist's prices stable? Any good dealer will tell you that.

"And having the museum curators there is a great resource. Call Jay, Jan or Brenda over and ask them what they think."

Buying young artists whose reputations are not yet established is a challenge, Mr. Monk said. "The novelty of the new sometimes reaches out and grabs us. If you're smitten, leave the environment, and see how it stays with you. It's possible to find works of lasting appeal that are very inexpensive, maybe a couple hundred dollars. And it's good to support younger artists."

Both Mr. Monk and Ms. Howard emphasized that collecting is highly individual. Some may want to collect a certain artist or type of art, such as pop or minimalism; others may want to be more eclectic. Both approaches are fine.

They also emphasized that the thing not to do is try to make a killing. "Art is generally a bad investment," said Ms. Howard. "Even if it does increase in value, generally you can do better with your money in other ways. Don't buy for investment. That's the worst reason to buy art."


What: 1994 Baltimore Contemporary Print Fair

Where: The Baltimore Museum of Art, Art Museum Drive near Charles and 31st streets

When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday; preview reception 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. tomorrow

Admission: Sunday, $5 admission to fair plus museum admission of $5.50 for adults, $3.50 for seniors and students, $1.50 ages 7 through 18; for tomorrow's preview, $25 includes admission to museum and admission to fair Sunday

Call: (410) 396-6347

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