Multiples, eminently collectable art Featured

From William Morris and René Lalique to Damien Hirst, the concept of beauty available to all.

by 01 July 2009

More than a century has pased since technology first enabled the artists to create an object with the power to bring the magic that is art into everyone’s home: the art multiple.

The idea of being able to reproduce the beauty of modernity, and to thus scatter it to the four winds, appealed enormously to the artists of the Art Nouveau period. Especially in England, where industrial technology had made the most strides forward. More than 100 years since artists with the caliber of William Morris and René Lalique set up companies that immediately garnered a huge success, the art multiple has become the permanent, ideal extension of a horizontal concept of beauty, based on the idea that art can be placed within everyone’s reach.

Despite the major style tumbles in the ordinary silkscreen prints of also the highly rated artists seen in the last century, this market, which is more accessible than the super-exclusive original art market, is regaining its audience.

Even a superstar like Damien Hirst has caught on to the high potential and importance fostered by the art multiple and some of his editions of anything but limited work (reaching more than 1000 copies) sold like hot cakes in the first few hours of launch. The ease with which creative minds the world over can put and sell their products on the net has ensured the market diffusion of the art multiple like never before, and the choice is vast: from the most exclusive and expensive objects in very limited editions (sometimes as little as five) to the underground prints of famous graffiti artists, from the least-known eBayers (from whom you can buy almost unique objects at cut-rate prices) to the multiples of the uptown New York galleries, through to the custom-made tee-shirts signed by emerging artists, which see retailers such as Imperfect Articles sell limited editions of 100 pieces by highly compelling artists like the Royal Art Lodge, David Shrigley, and Grant Miller.

Parkett, the renowned Swiss art magazine, immediately set itself apart from the crowd by not only introducing the idea of a one-artist special issue, but also for having commissioned the best international artists to produce accompanying limited editions. indeed, practically every edition has sold out and exploring the work reveals a full range of the contemporary art of today: from the most traditional silkscreen prints to photographic editions through to actual objects, among which we underscore gillian Wearing’s mask/self-portrait (recalling the homonymous bronze by Man Ray) and a poorly identifi ed but nevertheless splendid object of desire produced by Monica Bonvicini for the occasion.

Japan’s yoshitomo nara nostalgically takes us back to the magic of our childhood with a series of objects that are a cross between manga and punk, available from Cerealart along with an impressive quantity of artists’ multiples of excellent quality, including the mini Wrong gallery of Maurizio Cattelan & Co., where the collector can play at curator in the comfort of his/her own home.

That brilliant outfit indaco design, which produces everyday objects centered on the balancing force of aesthetics and function, has also joined the race to capture a vast but exclusive audience: ergonomic chocolates that spike only certain taste buds, modular bags that transform into sculpture installations, shoeboxes in porcelain-fired grès to use for baking, and jewelry made of an innovative pairing of porcelain and platinum.

New York’s Guggenheim, cresting the wave midway between the souvenir and the fetish, has commissioned Californian artist Cara Tilker to produce Restoration Rocks, a jewelry collection that incorporates fragments of the Frank Lloyd Wright Museum wall, gathered and conserved by its staff during the building’s restoration in 2007.

Alternatively, some artists have launched a return to traditional printing techniques, such as Egypt’s Fathi Hassan. despite the fact that Hassan shows his highly original installations at the international bi-annual exhibitions, when he uses the multiple, he does it in a strictly classical way, reminding us of the hieroglyphics of his illustrious ancestors. or Sandro Bracchitta, who has won a slew of international engraving awards, but also invents new techniques to relight the torch of public interest in an ancient yet still wonderfully modern art.

We can also find in this lively rummage of exclusive objects, those who use the multiple to diffuse their own provocative messages, such as Stefano Cagol, who distributed Birdflu badges to an oblivious and amused audience in his fear-of-bird-flu performances at the Berlin Biennial. or like Cesare Pietroiusti, who, when he put to the debate not only the idea of the multiple but also that of exchanging money to buy a work of art, gave away 4000 pieces of a watercolour abstract on which he had imprinted the utopian phrase: whoever tries to exchange money will invalidate the artist’s signature and transform the work into a fake.