Counter Editions, launched in September 2000 after the internet bubble had burst, approached the business in a very different way. “The total investment in the company has been under £100,000; we spent £20,000 on building the website which in retrospect seems hugely expensive,” says director Matthew Slotover. The company has offices in London and New York, but employs only four people. So far they have published 14 prints, as well as Sarah Lucas’s cakes, whose iced surfaces are printed with edible inks. The company became self-funding almost immediately. It was set up by Karl Freedman, an independent art critic and curator who has worked in particular with the YBAs and created Damien Hirst’s first Warehouse show in 1990 together with Matthew Slotover, the founder of Frieze magazine, and Kate Macgarry, former art dealer and curator.
Freedman and Slotover worked briefly for Eyestorm before realising they had very divergent aims. They were worried abut the quality as well as the content of some of the Eyestorm prints. While the intention is similar to Eyestorm, to produce large editions of work at an affordable price, the company sees a big distinction between itself and Eyestorm. It is working with artists to produce a small number of original prints (15 so far with two more being launched early next year), these prints do not reproduce pre-existing images and involve a great deal of artist participation. The profits are split 50/50 between artist and publisher. Most of the prints are printed in an edition of 300 and priced at £350. However due to the large edition size, the company does employ highly reproductive techniques. The works published are either photographs, silk screens or lithographs. They are marketed through the Independent on Sunday Colour Supplement, readers are promised the original publication price and the magazine carries editorial on the artist.
Counter Editions has gone after the big names, not all of whom have made prints before. These include Tracey Emin, Chris Ofili Gavin Turk and Gillian Wearing.
The most successful and the most natural print maker is Gary Hume, and his print “The cleric” sold 100 copies in days when it was launched through the Independent on Sunday. It has now been “rachetted” from a price of £295 to £650 as it nears the end of its edition; a common practice among print dealers. Turk has just brought out a second print, which is being launched through Tate Britain. “Psyche” takes the Victorian nude as its starting point and is a luminous, two-colour screen print on aluminium priced at £475 for an edition of 400.
For the launch of its Rachel Whiteread edition, a laser-cut relief in birch plywood based on a parquet floor, Counter Editions linked up with the Serpentine Gallery and sold 400 of an edition of 450 within a month. The print, which started at £450, is now selling for £900. This is not unusual: museums are no strangers to running off a print to help finance an exhibition; the artist is grateful for the exposure.
• Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper with the headline "Counter Editions: small but steady"