The art world was rocked in 2006 when it was discovered that a “print warehouse” was selling unauthorized reproductions of famous works of art. The pieces were sold on cable TV, a cruise line and through ads in art magazines. The owner of the “art” represented it as real and claimed that the prints had been found at various auctions and estate sales around the world and that they would make excellent investments
Credit: Fountains of Bryn MawrDespite the seeming abundance of each work, investors and art connoisseurs lined up to take advantage. In all, the printer sold over $20,000,000 worth of the reproductions. The pieces were beautiful in their own right but the mindless, incessant reproduction of them diminished the value of the original prints and all but completely devalued the unauthorized copies. Additionally, in the process, the reputations of several artists were ruined and many investors were deprived of their life savings.
How was the printer able to so effortlessly reproduce these magnificent pieces of art? It’s simple, really. The answer is modern printing technology and the Giclee process.
What is Giclée?
The word Giclee was coined in 1981 by the originator of the process. It is derived from the French word “gicler” meaning to spray and is indicative of the essential nature of the process. The original Giclees were printed on an IRIS printer and produced quality that was unprecedented at the time sparking an interest in high end reproductions.
Currently, the Giclée process uses an updated series of high-end, large format, inkjet printers to reproduce a work of art from a computer file. The file can be created using various art programs, digital cameras or with high resolution scanners. The resultant print can be placed on a variety of media such as photo paper, cotton canvas or other more exotic materials.
In some instances, the artist will number and sign the run and destroy the file after the run is completed. The goal is to produce a limited run with more appeal and, thus, value than a traditional, mass produced poster or print.
For photographs, the process is identical to any other digital process except that the print is usually reproduced in an oversized format. In fact, Giclee is the process of choice for all the leading photographic artists in the world. Careful control of the original file, however, is imperative to maintaining the value of the work. In this case, the process is seen as producing legitimate art and prints by such noted photographers as Annie Liebowitz have fetched prices as high as $10,000 for a single print.
The process is moderately more complicated with art created by hand with oils, pastels or watercolors. The process starts with the creation of an original work of art. The artist then decides to make a print run as in the old days. A digital photo or scan is taken and the piece is printed on the same media as the original.
The process is so refined that from a distance, the two appear identical. Closer inspection, however, will reveal a lack of depth in the media in the reproduction. Again, ensuring that only a limited number of reproductions are created is necessary to maintain a suitable value.
While Giclee prints are far more expensive to reproduce than the bulk prints made by traditional lithography, they are prints nonetheless. Reputable artists go to great lengths to secure and safeguard their originals and their print files so that no unauthorized prints can be made. In addition, signed works can also be made available and, depending on the artist, can have a significantly greater value.
The question is not if Giclees are art. They undoubtedly are and have intrinsic worth as beautiful decorative objects. The question is actually, “Are they valuable art?” The answer varies according to whom you ask. Galleries and some museums will point out that Giclee prints can be indistinguishable form the original, will last longer and come with the same types of provenances and certificates of authenticity as “real” art. For them, there is no question.
Investors may feel differently, however, as more than one artist, when needing more money, has made additional runs against the interests of the purchasers of the first run. Unlike traditional prints, the quality of Giclees does not degrade over time and the 1000th print is as good as the first rendering the numbering process almost meaningless.
To Purchase or Not?
As with anything else in life, if a deal seems to good to be true, it probably is. The investor who bought $10,000 worth of Giclee on an ocean liner convinced that it was worth over $100,000 was probably more than a little naïve.
Still, Giclee has a place in many investor portfolios and art collections. There are numerous artists today such as Alexander Zakharov, Shannon, Armand Vanderstigchel and Terry Amburgey who are actively collected by art connoisseurs and the Hollywood elite.
Another important feature of Giclee art prints is that the art can be customized to fit the space. A large Giclee has essentially the same resolution as a large one. Measure your space and the artist can fit the print to any size you require.
The ultimate answer to the question is really an individualized one. How do you feel about the piece? Most devotees collect the art for itself and not for financial reasons. Even the best Giclee prints fluctuate wildly in price just as traditional art. There are certainly safer and more reliable places to invest your money but none are more beautiful.
What Happened to the Forger?
Make no mistake about it, the unauthorized reproduction of Giclee prints is forgery and carries stiff fines and heavy penalties. This is a fact that the owner of Fine Arts Treasures Gallery should have considered. In 2007, she pled guilty to fraud. In consequence, she had several million dollars in assets seized and, in 2010, was sentenced to seven years in jail.