Bev Doolittle’s Beyond Negotiations, her first limited edition in eight years, has sold out the Museum Edition. The massive 72″ x 26″ giclee canvas size has sold out all 350 pieces at the publisher level. With a retail price of $2,950, it generated more than $1 million in sales.
Doolittle’s longtime publisher, The Greenwich Workshop also reports strong sales of the smaller 44″ x 16″ MasterWork Edition with 3,750 pieces on paper. Priced at $795, if it sells out, it will generate nearly $3 million in additional retail sales. In the heyday of limited edition sales, a Doolittle edition of this relatively small size would have created havoc in the market with overheated demand from dealers and collectors. Market watchers are paying close attention to see how this edition by one of the genre’s superstar fares. So far, so good.
Sales success of artists the ilk of Doolittle notwithstanding, I continue to campaign for unlimited editions of giclee prints for a variety of reasons. There is a semantical dichotomy when an artist who “sells out” is considered successful and in general it is a good thing. Yet, an artist who caters to her or his collectors to the point of enjoying great success can easily be labeled as having “sold out.” Which is it we want from artists? The marine artist Wyland was once quoted for saying the Old Masters had to wait till after they died to get rich and he didn’t want to wait that long.
Will artists and publishers continue to rely on using limited edition marketing techniques to try and drive sales? Absolutely, especially when they have a marquee name like Bev Doolittle to attach to the limited edition. With the first two editions from this single work totaling more than 4,000 pieces, the term limited continues to be stretched. I wonder if the first canvas giclee edition of 350 was kept, but that subsequent editions were left open whether more sales would be made. Let the market determine the number of pieces. Already on eBay, sellers are asking $6,950 for the canvas and $2,495 for the paper, which in both cases amounts to a tripling of the original retail price.
When you see a Doolittle Pintos piece that originally sold for under $100 currently listed on ArtPrints.com at nearly $12,000, you understand the greedy eagerness that drives this market. Art is purely subjective when it comes to prices, especially on the secondary market. Is there anything technically or creatively brilliant enough to warrant such a premium for Doolittle’s work? Not to my mind, but then I can’t wrap my brain around Warhol’s recent record of $74 million for Green Car Crash either. For that matter, I can’t conceive of the crazy prices people pay at auctions like Barrett Jackson for vintage muscle cars or the $4.3 million for the bus-like GM Futurliner.
Should Doolittle’s latest work sell out in the first two editions and continue to sell out in other yet to be determined editions, I don’t anticipate it will alter the slide of the popularity of limited edition art from its peak period in the ’80s and ’90s. Those days are gone. I’m sure other publishers are closely watching to see how this new effort by The Greenwich Workshop prevails with thoughts of how they can once again capitalize on a resurgent limited edition market. Who could blame them? In the halcyon years, limited edition sales put money in every body’s pocket with the slogan of one for the wall and one for under the bed.
With the general decline of the tradeshows and overall sluggishness of the art print and poster market for the past few years, it is a welcome breath of fresh air, (or perhaps cooled recirculated air) to see Bev Doolittle once again on top enjoying success in the limited edition market. It may be short lived, or may be the start of a new invigorating trend. As with so many important developments within the industry these days, we sit and watch and wait for news we hope will be welcome.