ARE PETER LIK PROSPECTIVE BUYERS BECOMING MORE SAVVY?
God, I hope so! A number of times lately I have fielded phone calls and emails from prospective buyers who were previously looking at Lik’s work, but were turned off for one reason or another and began looking elsewhere. It seems, one can hope, that these potential photography buyers are becoming more savvy to some of the selling tactics employed by the Lik Galleries, and beginning to question the absurd pricing structure for the not-very limited editions of 950.
I certainly don’t have any issue with artists offering large editions of 950 or more prints, or even offering Open Editions with no preset limit. Ansel and his contemporaries didn’t limit their prints to a preset edition. Christopher Burkett, who in my opinion is the Ansel-of-today, doesn’t limit his prints to a preset edition. Much of my own work is comprised of relatively large editions of 250 or 450.
On the flip side, you have artists who offer very small limited editions, which is common in the contemporary photography world. The highest paid photograph by Andreas Gursky, Rhein II which fetched 4.3 million in auction, is an edition of 6 with 2 artist proofs. Cindy Sherman, second to only Gursky on the list of most expensive photographs sold, has offered editions of 10 or less. Both edition methods are fine and have their place, but both have certain characteristics that they naturally carry with them.
I have been lucky enough to discuss this topic at length with a number of Master photographers, all of whom are taking different approaches. A number of years ago, I found myself in a 2 hour conversation with Christopher Burkett and his wife, where much of the conversation revolved around this topic. Burkett’s theory was, and I am paraphrasing here - when you release an image, you don’t know how many are going to sell and how the public will respond to it. You may sell 5 prints total, or it may be very popular and you sell 500. You number the prints and record the date as you go so the collector knows when and where they are with the print, and the cost of the print does indeed increase as it sells, naturally slowing the sale of the print. To make a finite number means that if a print sells out, you can no longer make it available to a new collector. A print that only sells five times, is really an edition of 5 - not of whatever preset limit the artist made up beforehand. He went further into the explanation, and in relation to his work and his collectors, it made perfect sense to me.
I also have had a number of discussions with David Fokos, who I admire greatly, regarding the topic of editions. He, on the other hand, has small limited editions of only 50 and 3 Artist Proofs - 35 smaller 13x13” prints, 15 large 36x36” prints, and only 3 dynamic 48x48” Artist Proofs. The work is presented on a price tier structure, increasing as the edition sells - which makes a lot of sense when you consider only 18 people will ultimately own a large print! His pricing structure begins in the $4k range and tops out in the $16k range for the final of the large framed prints. This approximately 4-time increase in the purchase price helps increase the value of the piece as it sells, setting up his work to gain value in the secondary market.
Regardless of what path an artist takes in creating limited editions, there are certain traits to each path that don’t crossover. A price-tier structure increasing 4-times in a small edition of 15 does not seem at all awkward, whereas a 10-times (or more) increase in cost in an edition of 950 seems utterly ridiculous. You see what I’m saying?
Admittedly, I have been totally shocked at the number of Lik collectors that seem to fall for this non-sensible model. This piece is $4,000. This piece over here is $15,000 because it’s later in the edition. That $4k piece will be just like this one - tomorrow, next week, next month - you better buy it now. Or, worse - This piece is $15,000. It was $4,000 a year ago, but will be 35,000 in another year, or two, or three. Buy it now. It's a great investment! It does not amaze me that this works, it amazes me that this works with editions of 950! When we are talking about 5 prints, 10 prints, 15 prints - I get it, because I can see that there really is a potential for value. Why? Because, scarcity creates value. And who or what determines the true value? The secondary market, of course. If I attempt to sell you something for $25,000, it is not necessarily worth $25,000. Even if you buy it! It is only worth $25,000 if you are able to resell it for that amount. That is why I have stated before that scarcity fuels true value and auction houses bring a certain legitimacy to the sale - this is art selling on the secondary market. An edition of 950?! I don’t see the scarcity. I certainly don’t see the value.
One recent email I fielded read:
One of our divisions is building a Premium Salon and I thought some of your artwork might go well with the motif. I’ve looked at Peter Lik’s work but find that 1 of 950 is not rare in the art world, and I just can’t justify the pricing for the 8-12 large pieces that we would need. Looks like you have a similar gift for nature photography and that’s why I have contacted you. One question: I do find it interesting how the Lik pieces seem to behave under light. Would your prints have the same properties?
It went on from there. Later in our dialogue, some of the Lik gallery..."selling techniques" began to come to light. Of course I am not surprised - I’ve been hearing them for years, but I suppose I am still a bit surprised that people believe everything they are told. This customer was told that Lik uses a special "patented" print and only his prints react to light this way. Hah! Lik has a patent on Fuji Supergloss?! Doesn't every art gallery in the world take prospects into the viewing room to show how light interplays with the art? Of course they do! One of the other hilarious ones that I used to hear a lot while working on Front Street was that Lik was one of only a few people on the planet to know how to operate a Linhof 617. I guess myself, and the other photographer I worked with at the time, were the other two, unbeknownst to us! Or, that he only shoots film and doesn’t use photoshop (this was a big one back when I worked for him years ago). Or, more lately, that he uses digital but reintroduces the digital file back into film in order to make a true photographic print. What!? Who believes this stuff?
Another email I was flabbergasted to receive while writing this piece reads:
I own 6 Peter Liks I need to sell them ASAP have all certification papers will sell all for one price or separate please contact me ASAP Imagine, Prosperity, winter calm, Genesis, Tree of the Universe, Pristine, Antelope Canyon
No clue why she contacted me...but, I guess this poor collector didn’t feel that adding to the 591 others currently trying to sell their pieces for exorbitant prices on Art Brokerage.com was a reasonable option. Probably because it isn’t. Right now, for example, there are 18 different people with Angel’s Heart listed for sale. Some are asking $28,000 for a 60” print, and others are asking $16,000 for a 75” print, while still others are asking $73,800 for a 78” print. This would all be laughable, except that there’s still apparently a large number of people that believe that there is value to large editions, or at the very least, there’s currently 591 people on Art Brokerage hoping so.
All of this begs for the question to be asked: Are Peter Lik prospective buyers becoming more savvy? Or, not?