This months’ column is not about art shows, but more of a tip/lesson for artists in one area where a lot of artists agonize over.
One of the most curious things that I have puzzled about in the many decades of making art, presenting art, selling art and dealing with both artists and art collectors (as well as art dealers) is how often artists anguish over a signature.
There are gazillions of ways to screw up a work of art with a signature – the most common one is where a work of art is marred by a giant signature in glow-in-the-dark silver color marker or some hideous color like that.
Even a tiny and elegant signature can distract from a work of art if placed in the wrong area of the work. Imagine an elegant abstract, such as a Mondrian, with a signature in the middle of one of the color geometric shapes.
And, the real truth is that if you care at all about art as a commodity, then I will tell you that most collectors, especially the savvy ones, will always ask about the signature, if one is not apparent at first inspection. You can give them all the certificates of authenticity on the planet, but they want that siggie somewhere.
“A Picasso with a signature may be worth twice as much as one without a signature,” said Mark Rosen, former head of the print department at Sotheby’s, which sells approximately thousands of prints per year with prices ranging from a few hundred dollars to over $100,000. “Chagall did a series of prints called ‘Daphne and Chloe’ and those that are signed are worth 10 times as much as those that are unsigned. Otherwise, they are the same prints.”
By now you’re itching to yell at me: “Lenster! What is this? Damn if you and damn if you don’t?”
Nope – it’s just damn if you don’t; just do it in the proper place(s).
Some easy to remember DO NOT Rules when signing artwork
- Never sign with a gigantic signature; a normal signature (or even smaller than normal) will do fine.
- Never sign anywhere on the surface where it interferes with the composition.
- Never sign with that glows, shimmers, is metallic or will fade.
- No need to put the little “c” inside the circle “copyright” sign by your signature. You already own the copyright no matter what!
- If you sign on the back (verso in Sotheby’s jargon), make sure that it doesn’t bleed through!
- Don’t sign using inks that will fade in time, or worse, separate, such as “Sharpies” do after a few years, when they acquire a yellow border around the faded black ink.
You want to know where to sign, right?
By the way… I’m meandering all about signatures on two dimensional work; you sculptors are all on your own, as long as you don’t pull a Michelangelo on the Pieta stunt. In case you’ve forgotten your art history, Michelangelo was so upset that some people had erroneously attributed his work to one of his rivals, that one night he snuck into the Vatican and chiseled his name in giant letters on the belt across the Madonna’s torso.
Where to sign two-dimensional work
- On the back (make sure that it doesn’t go through and can be seen from the front); in fact, the more info that you can put on the back to help art historians of the future, the better.
- On the lower margin of the piece (usually the right margin, but that’s up to you).
- Photographs can either be signed (and numbered in a small edition, cough, cough) on the verso (there’s a million “special” photo-signing pens for all you photo geeks; they “write” on photo paper and dry in nanoseconds and don’t smear, etc.) Or you can sign them if you leave a white border all around the printed photo. Even signing the mat in the lower margin in pencil was in vogue in the last century and is OK.
If you don’t believe me about the power of a signature, then just go online and research the difference in price between a signed Picasso (most of them) and the two dozen or so fully validated, authenticated and documented unsigned Picassos (the ones that he gave to one of his ex-wives that he hated).