Should you start your art collection with prints?

If you are new to art collecting, original art prints could be a good start. It is a smart way to acquire pieces of renowned artists at affordable prices. We spoke to Jonathan Toh, architect-trained owner of online-and-appointment-based contemporary art studio Featurespace on art prints investments and his inspirations behind his gallery.

We have seen a rise in popularity of art prints in recent years. Can you share with us what art prints are?

Prints are edition works. More often than not, they are a derivative of a unique art piece. For example, Murakami usually has an original work in paint and he will do edition prints beyond that. These prints are usually signed and editioned. They are limited to print run of about 100 – 300 pieces. Some people may feel that prints have a bad reputation in the art world because they are seen as copies and are not original. I always tell my clients that some of the best art works in the world are actually prints – such as Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe silkscreen prints. 

Can art prints be a good investment? 

I do think they are good investments and they represent good value. You can buy into an artist whose original works would have been more unattainable. Murakami original canvases for example, are in millions, but his prints have lower barrier to entry. 

Have you observed an appreciation in original print arts in the market? 

There are many factors at play when it comes to the appreciation of artworks. The prices of prints by a world class artist can be higher than the canvas of a less renowned artist. Prints can still appreciate in price. Especially lately when they are more frequently “dropped” at contemporary galleries. Once they are sold out, they can appreciate by at least 2 to 3 times in the secondary market.

What are some famous prints? 

Takashi Murakami’s prints for one. And many others from the Kaikai Kiki Gallery. Artists like Damien Herst who are predominantly in the canvas and installation space have also moved to prints in recent years. They have found it to be a good way to reach out more quickly to a wider audience. 

How can a buyer tell if a print is authentic? 

There are a few ways. First, buy through a reputable studio who has verified the dealers. One should also research if this work exists and whether the dimensions, year, serial numbers match. Most of the time there will also be a certificate of authenticity from the dealer or the reselling studio like mine. 

Speaking of your studio, how did you start Featurespace?

I started the idea of this business when I started art collecting. I wanted to do it concurrently from the onset. When I started looking for my first piece, I was not able to find what I want from the retail galleries in Singapore. I was also conscious of the online market. I did not have the best experience as the whole art buying experience felt sterile. I wanted it to be a more personal and warm for the collectors. I set out to find the right contacts to create a high-quality end product, from sourcing to framing. We found a way to create that at a reasonable price point and with a better user experience. It was then I knew I created something I could accept myself and begin sharing with others. 

How do you set yourself apart from other galleries?

I always think about how I can help collectors buy high quality art without the high airs. It stuck with me to deliver gallery-grade artworks with a more intimate setting and affordable pricing.  But we don’t set out to be different for the sake of it. There are still fundamentals to art selling that need to be there – handling the artworks, gathering provenance, framing it to the right standards. I want to position us as a partner helping our customer start a collection rather than trying to push our artworks to them. For example, we work with our customers to help them understand the artwork, its origin, how it differs from other artworks, equivalent alternatives as well as how best to frame the artwork and where to place it in their house. This kind of service turns out to be successful and is well received by the community. 

How did it feel when you sold your first artwork?

It was invigorating! It took some time and the learning curve was steep at the start. We made mistakes, even paying through our noses. But this made us listen more. Eventually, clients find us to be different from other galleries. I speak to them like friends and they recommend interesting artists to bring in. We then do the research and see if these artists fit into the overall studio. And we build a relationship from there. Instead of being fixated with certain themes for the studio, I want the walls to keep changing every month with different artists and artworks. It is like fast fashion where people always have something new to look forward to. Traditional galleries set up to sell 1 artwork in 6 months, we steer our business towards selling 6 artwork in 1 month.

What are your plans for Featurespace in the future? 

Covid has shifted everyone’s emphasis away from travelling (for now). People are exploring new avenues or experiences like staging their homes. Art buying is one way to do that. I want to continue to bring more good works to Singapore. I don’t see myself going to a full retail space for now because I think what we have now creates an intimate experience with the buyers. 

Lastly, what’s your advice to someone wanting to start an art collection? 

Buy what you love (first). You have to as you will be looking at it every day. Think of the investment aspects second. If the artwork does well or appreciates in value, that is a bonus. If not, enjoy it for what it is. 

Check out Featurespace here and IG @featurespace__

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