Carl Freedman is the co-founder of Counter Editions, the UK's leading website for buying art online, and also runs Carl Freedman Gallery, which he's been operating since 2003. An early promoter of online art sales, Freedman talked with us about how the marketplace has changed over the past decade, as well as his supportive relationship with the Young British Artists.
Counter Editions has partnered with a number of impressive artists over the years such as John Baldessari, Bridget Riley, and Christopher Wool, to name only a few, as well as five former Turner Prize winners including Chris Ofili, Gillian Wearing, and Rachel Whiteread. Out of all these remarkable works these artists have created, is there one print in particular you like the most?
I have wanted to work with Mary Heilmann for years and her new print for Counter is so beautiful. It will be going straight up on my wall at home!
You founded both Counter Editions and Carl Freedman Gallery (formerly the Counter Gallery) in the early 2000s. What was the print market like at that time, what encouraged you to start a business selling artworks, and what comparisons can you make, if any, to the entrepreneurial, self-promoting spirit of the Young British Artists with whom you worked?
When we launched in 2000, selling art online was unknown territory. We really were pioneers - many people were still on dial-up connections. The model we introduced, which went somewhat against the traditional print publishing world, was to produce editions in larger numbers than was typical, and thus be able to offer them at a more affordable price. We also wanted to leverage the internet as a means to distribute the artworks in a more democratic manner, which, with all the dot-com excitement at the time, created huge momentum from the outset.
The self-promoting entrepreneurial YBA is something of a myth. It was much more, in fact, about a community of artists getting together to self-organise exhibitions with the ambition of introducing a wider audience to contemporary art. This was at a time—in the early 1990s—when there was relatively little awareness of contemporary art in London and few opportunities to have shows. It was a similar spirit behind the founding of Counter Editions—a desire for a wider engagement with contemporary art, in this case through collecting high quality prints and sculptural multiples. It was the same group of YBAs with whom I have worked with for many years who got behind Counter Editions at the outset and helped make it a success.
As the reputation of some of the artists Counter Editions has collaborated with increased drastically in standing, what effect has that had on the value of their early prints? How has the overall print market changed over time?
Like the wider art market, good prints increase in value as the gain in reputation of the artist. Our Christopher Wool prints launched at $500 in 2000 and now sell for $15,000!
The main change in the the print market is that more public institutions are running limited edition programs at affordable prices which has certainly helped with widening the appreciation and ownership of prints.
You've been close friends with a number of renowned YBAs like Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin since the early stages of their careers, before they achieved international renown. Where do you look for young artists these days?
Its always word of mouth. Ivan Seal was a recent discovery for the gallery and has been a huge success. I came to his work via a recommendation from another artist and he was totally unknown at the time.
As an art appreciator and enthusiast, what sort of art do you yourself collect?
Typically it is work that i have some kind of personal connection to, whether that is artists of the gallery or artist friends.
Is there any other art-historical period that you wish you could have lived through?
Los Angeles in the 1960s and the Ferus Gallery scene.
Do you think that it's okay to break the law for the sake of art?
Good artists copy. Great artists steal.
What is your favorite place to see art?
The new Carl Freedman Gallery designed by Kevin Brennan. The proportions and light are close to perfect. When everyone has gone home I sometimes take a chair and just sit in there and take time with the work on show.
What artwork or art destination would you most like to see?
The Clyfford Still Museum in Denver, Colorado—a fantastic outcome for an artist of such stringent ideals.
What book has had the biggest impact on your work, or life?
What is an artist's responsibility in society?
I am wary of assigning any special social role or status to artists. We are all in this together.
If you could get any artist to do your portrait, who would you choose?