EXHIBITION A IS UNIQUE in selling wall-ready inkjet reproductions on stretched canvas, which I find to be hit-or-miss in quality: and indeed, whether on paper or canvas, the more materially subtle and less graphic the original (say, emphasizing impasto and painterliness), the less satisfying the reproduction. Exhibition A was launched in late 2010 by Bill Powers, best known for his role as a judge on the reality show “Work of Art”; he began as a style journalist and later opened the downtown space Half Gallery, now three years old. Powers also manages the “rare book room” (first editions and other special art books) at the Gagosian Shop.
Unlike those in the other companies under review, all of the artists contracting with Exhibition A are well known (among them Terence Koh, Jules de Balincourt and Nate Lowman, whose Paper Airplane sold 50 of the total edition of 150 within three hours of its sale’s launch); the company seems not to traffic in the emerging artists so predominant at the other sites. Like interior design retailers (West Elm, for example), Exhibition A promotes its wares by showing them hung over couches and beds in attractive bourgeois settings, and offers two kinds of editions, limited and “unlimited.” The unlimited prints are available to its “members” (who pay no fees) for a specified time—two weeks, a month—on the model of “flash sales.” When the sale ends, production ceases, and however many prints were sold becomes the number in the edition. At Exhibition A, the works themselves are signed by the artist by hand or stamped with a signature; the “certificate of authenticity” accompanying all works carries the signature of someone in the company, not the artist. Prices are never higher than $500. Like all the publishers under consideration, Powers is fervent, as if pursuing a mission. “There’s a public service component in it,” he says, without irony. “People’s lives are enriched by collecting art.”
ArtStar, the newest of the sites, founded by former art advisor Chrissy Crawford and launched in early 2011 (with money, Crawford reports, “taken out of my wedding budget”), distinguishes itself by offering inexpensive UV framing for every work, a feature that others have said they are investigating (most offer limited framing options). At ArtStar, artist’s signatures are scanned onto the certificates of authenticity. Crawford explains, “We don’t want to interfere with the artist’s original works,” and, indeed, she seems at pains to avoid even the semblance of conflict with the galleries that represent her artists. By contrast, Jen Bekman, founder of 20x200 [see sidebar], foresees traffic to the artists’ galleries increasing as a result of her operation. “This is the thing that other dealers are beginning to understand—I want more people walking into galleries, not fewer. We can reach an audience that they can’t on their own.”
The focus on commerce distinguishes these businesses from organizations publishing artists’ multiples to benefit philanthropic operations (Yvonne Force Villareal’s Art Production Fund, for example). Sometimes, however, the sites publish benefit prints on behalf of nonprofit organizations or other causes. Art+Culture Editions started off exclusively as the fundraising arm for Artadia, a philanthropic agency founded by Christopher Vroom, an ex-financial analyst who now fosters a variety of relationships between artists and institutions. Art+Culture Editions is about to be relaunched as ArtSpace, an e-commerce site focusing more on print publishing and art marketing in general, in partnership with nonprofit institutions (recent sign-ons are Asia Society, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis and the Guggenheim) and commercial galleries (James Cohan, 303, David Zwirner). At present, the Art+Culture website is a mash-up of digital and unique art, expensive and inexpensive. Some of the site’s better known artists, like Nick Cave, have issued low-price, size-graded prints, but until now these seem to have been mainly produced by emerging artists.