How To | Understand Art Pricing
Editorial / Collecting Guides

How To | Understand Art Pricing

29 Jan 2022

Baffled by the price of prints and overwhelmed by the cost of originals? Hang-Up’s founder, Ben Cotton, explains everything you need to know about art pricing in our Q&A.

Ben Cotton, Hang-Up's founder and director answers all our questions on art pricing.

Ben Cotton, Hang-Up's founder and director answers all our questions on art pricing.

Salvatore Scarpa

Why do some prints and editions cost more than others by the same artist?

Limited edition prints give collectors the opportunity to buy coveted artwork from an artist at a more accessible price point than an original. The idea of owning an original Basquiat, Kusama, Banksy or Hockney may be out of the question for many, but editions allow collectors to enter the market and own something unique from these artists. So they’re always a popular starting point.

Pricing in the print market can be confusing at first but there is a logic to it all. Following the quality of the image, it is the scarcity of a piece that will affect demand, and consequently price. In the case of Banksy for example, signed prints are almost always less readily available than unsigned ones due to the smaller edition size – because of this, a buyer will pay a premium (⅔ times the price of the unsigned) to acquire one.

In addition to standard prints, other 'special works' to look out for include artist's proofs, printer’s proofs, one-off colour-ways or prints with hand finishing. These are all popular with collectors, and all of them command a further premium due to their limited supply.

Originals and editions by Yayoi Kusama, Nina Chanel Abney, Nancy Fouts and Bridget Riley at Hang-Up.

Originals and editions by Yayoi Kusama, Nina Chanel Abney, Nancy Fouts and Bridget Riley at Hang-Up.

Simon Kallas

How can I afford an original work?

Original works of course will almost always cost more than prints by the same artist: after all, they’re time-consuming one-offs created by the artists themselves. But originals are at their most affordable early in the artists’ careers and, if you want early access, the best thing is to find a gallery (or galleries) that resonate with you and start following them and their roster of artists in order to build a relationship. At Hang-Up, we’ve been working with emerging and mid-career artists for almost 15 years and have collaborated with and produced inaugural exhibitions for artists including Tim Fishlock, The Connor Brothers, Lauren Baker and Magnus Gjoen – all of whom have gone on to have successful careers. Collectors who purchased paintings from the first shows by any of these artists will be very happy with the significant increase in value of their pieces: they will all be worth many times the initial purchase price.

Where do objects come into this?

Thanks to artists such as KAWS and Murakami, there’s been huge demand for cult toys and objects in the art world since the beginning of this century. Relatively easy to look after and store as well as being accessible in terms of price point, these objects generally increase in value and represent a good investment. There’s one proviso, though: they need to be kept pristine and in their original packaging.

Set of KAWS companion figures,  2017.

Set of KAWS companion figures, 2017.

KAWS, Highsnobiety.

If you look at art as an asset, it’s easier to justify the initial outlay – as long as you buy from a respectable source and ensure that you have genuine assurances of authenticity.

Ben Cotton

Why do some artists command higher prices than others?

On a basic level, artworks tend to be priced based on who the artist is and the size and quality of the work. But, if you start to dig deeper, there are many more variables that go into pricing. Gallerists will consider what stage of their career the artist is at (is this their first show or have they exhibited globally for many years?), as well as the artist's auction history, any notable collectors, notable press mentions, and whether there is (or could be) a 'hot' or 'hype' factor. If you have work by an artist who is selling well and has made their way into good collections but has limited supply and a wait-list for the work then you’ve struck gold, because this will likely be reflected in their pricing. In the contemporary art world, some collectors view artists as they would brands: they’ll race to snap up the most fashionable name or a person or style that’s perceived to be the next big thing. Last but not least, a museum show solidifies an artist's standing in the art world – so that’s another factor in pricing.

Sometimes an artist comes along who just exemplifies the time – it’s evident with Nina Chanel Abney, whose thesis show submission touched on white privilege and institutional racism just as these injustices were cementing themselves in the public consciousness. The YBAs, who turned art on its head back in the 1990s, also encapsulated their time and became superstars in their own right. What that means for an artist is an accelerated career trajectory and a faster route to the establishment. Prices for these artists generally rise more quickly than most others.

Untitled by Jean-Michel Basquiat is amongst the most expensive paintings ever sold at auction.

Untitled by Jean-Michel Basquiat is amongst the most expensive paintings ever sold at auction.

Smithsonian Magazine

How can I finance my purchase?

If you look at art as an asset, it’s easier to justify the initial outlay – as long as you buy from a respectable source and ensure that you have genuine assurances of authenticity. Own Art, a not-for-profit supported by Arts Council England, is a 0% finance scheme that allows buyers to borrow up to £25,000 in order to spread the cost of a purchase over ten months – and it’s a great help if you’re starting out on your collection. It’s been extremely popular with our clients.

Don't hesitate to get in touch if you have any further questions, our team will be glad to help.

Don't hesitate to get in touch if you have any further questions, our team will be glad to help.

Salvatore Scarpa

To discuss anything mentioned in the article as well as the works we currently have for sale, just get in touch.

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