For Sale: Richter Edition, Never Signed

While the discourse grapples with the nuances of the relationship between the digital art object vs its token of ownership, the old art world is not letting the concept of authenticity rest.

Why, just yesterday, this object appeared for sale online at Christie’s Amsterdam. It is “an unsigned trial proof [sic]” of Gerhard Richter’s 1990 edition, Besetztes Haus (Squatters’ House), based on a similarly titled 1989 painting that depicts a then-well-known squat near the artist’s studio in Cologne.

The actual work, an offset print on 65x80cm card, was issued in an edition of rather specific composition, as the artist’s website documents it:

100 copies, signed in pencil, dated at bottom right, numbered at bottom left.
10 copies, signed in pencil, dated at bottom right, numbered in Roman numerals at bottom left.
10 trial proofs, signed in pencil, dated at bottom right, marked at bottom left: Probedruck or Druckprobe.
1 trial proof, signed in pencil, dated and marked on the image at top left: Druckprobe.
5 artist’s proofs, signed in pencil, dated at bottom right, marked at bottom right: a.p.

This sheet of paper, 49×70.5cm in size and still bearing the color bars and crop marks of the printer, is labeled on the side in an unidentified hand with “GardaPat 13” and “Farbe Fox Glanz,” references to paper and ink specs.

The “lot essay” is a single sentence: “We thank Hubertus Butin for the information he has kindly provided on this work.” What is that information? Did the editor of the Richter Editions catalogue raisonnée say that for an artist who painted color charts, and who deliberately uses commercial-grade printing methods, a salvaged print sample is as conceptually valid as an actually signed printer’s proof, for a third the price? Or that sure, why not, do you remember that one sheet from Dresden? Who knows? But apparently it is enough to know Butin’s seen this thing, because it already has a bid, and will sell for at least EUR3,000, plus fees.

That one sheet from Dresden, but even that was signed, yo

Plus, of course, the Artists’ Resale Right royalty. If Richter accepts the 4% royalty for the sale of this work material scavenged from the printer’s floor, does that mean he recognizes it as an authentic work? Or will the real authentication only come if Richter adds the result to the sales tab on his site?

Lot 178: Gerhard Richter [?], Besetztes Haus (Squatters’ House) [sic], est. EUR3-5,000, auction ends 25 Nov 2021 [christies AMS]
Previously, very related: World’s Greatest Richter or World’s Greatest Non-Richter?