Lito: 21st-century lithographs are cloning the surface of paintings

At the recent inauguration of the breathtaking exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay dedicated to the last months of Vincent Van Gogh while he was living in Auvers sur Oise, a small space was reserved for not just one of the famous paintings by the Dutch painter, “Eglise à Auvers”, depicting the building detaching against an electric blue background. Also nearby there was an all-white reproduction that we could – how miraculous – actually touch, a copy of the painting in relief.

A step further, at the bookstore there was a faithful copy in colour and in relief on canvas, framed, in a run of 150 copies selling for 4500 euros. Another one with a more satisfying effect consisted of the relief copy on paper (in a run of 999 copies) of “La chambre de Van Gogh à Arles” on sale for 700 euros. This is a new kind of reproduction conceived by the Austrian company Lito. Last June they filed an international patent for their technique, which is unique on the market.

As their French cofounder John Dodelande explains, “this is a new printing tool that includes data processing.” In other words, each work is scanned to the nearest micrometre. In this way, the surface relief of the painting is recorded along with the colorimetry and varnish applied to the canvas. It’s in Bregenz, Austria, where Lito creates their official copies. The company has also collaborated with other institutions such as the Magritte Museum in Brussels. It led Lito to discover that the Belgian surrealist painter used 34 different kinds of varnish on his paintings.

“The history of art editions hadn’t evolved for a very long time,” observes John Dodelande. It began with the Gutenberg presses and continued in the 18th century with the invention of the lithographic process by the German Alois Senefelder. In the 20th century it was Andy Warhol with his use of the silkscreen print who particularly stood out. But since the Pop artist there hasn’t really been a new tool. We created Lito by investing in a technology that enables us to make copies of existing artworks, but not only that. In that sense they are considered to be duplications. That is, for example, what we displayed at the Musée d’Orsay. But in parallel we have also created multiple original artworks made specially by current artists. Our catalogue in this field is growing.”

According to the art market research firm ArtTactic, between 2018 and 2021 the cumulated sale of multiples at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips grew by 10. For now, the contemporary art offerings from Lito Editions remains limited.

The most stunning works are made by the Scottish artist and former Turner Prize winner Douglas Gordon (born in 1966). Very multifaceted yet virtuosic in nature, his creations have been integrated into the collections of the world’s major contemporary art museums. In this respect he excels in video, but we know the market for this medium has little demand outside of the institutions.

For a number of years he has also been creating paintings in a particular genre. They are composed of famous images that he appropriates and then damages, by burning them, to allow a reflective surface to show through from underneath. These pieces are christened “Self portrait of you + (the name of the work that has been appropriated)”. In November 2012 a painting conceived according to the idea of the “Self portrait of you + me (Elizabeth Taylor)” sold for the record price of 96,400 dollars.

We can interpret these “burning mirrors” to be an allusion to Marcel Duchamp’s famous phrase, “it’s the viewer that makes the work”, since the person staring at the artwork is reflected in it. Two galleries primarily represent Douglas Gordon: Kamel Mennour in Paris and the multinational Gagosian. They are currently offering single mirror works starting at about 100,000 euros.

Lito Editions has established a collaboration with Douglas Gordon in which he has taken and burned two famous images by Andy Warhol, a bluish portrait of Marilyn Monroe and an image duplicated in eight copies of Elvis dressed as a cowboy and drawing a pistol. Here the mirror has been replaced by a metallic reflective material, Alu-Dibond. These editions in 35 copies are on sale for 7,500 euros.

The American abstract artist Peter Halley (born in 1953) is known for variations on forms that allude to lines depicting urban landscapes in garish or even fluorescent colours. He uses a rough paint ordinarily made for wall coverings in construction. For Lito he has made a jigsaw puzzle of rectangles in varying colours and thicknesses. The Austrian company has also copied the effects of the texture following the direction of the artist.

Cloning the surface
“In my own paintings, I use Roll-a-Tex, a paint additive that creates a dense, bumpy, ersatz stucco texture. When I apply the paint, the textured surface is never exactly the same from painting to painting. I was fascinated with the idea that LITO’s unique technology could be used to “clone” the surface of one of my hand-painted Roll-a-Tex paintings” comments Halley.

At the Mudam in Luxembourg
The pieces printed in three different gradients of hues with a print-run of 45 are on sale for 8,400 euros. At auction, the record price for the artist, obtained in 2023, reached 60,540 euros for a painting from 2021. In Brussels the Maruani-Mercier gallery is exhibiting a series of his paintings until 10 October with a black background with colourful stripes referencing prison bars. They are presented for between 80,000 and 150,000 euros. Halley remains an underrated artist in light of the international prices for current art. Until 15 October the Mudam, Luxemburg’s contemporary art museum, is presenting a series of his paintings from the 1980s.

The Lito catalogue also contains four canvases by the Austrian artist Erwin Wurm (born in 1954). He plays with ideas from conceptual art to produce works that express a certain degree of absurdity, using gestures or objects from daily life. In 2017 he pushed the exercise much further when he occupied the whole of the Austrian pavilion during the Venice Biennale.

For Lito he has specially conceived what he calls “flat sculptures”, in other words, paintings where he has slightly accentuated the relief for this technology. The canvas is covered in bright and contrasting colours with words that seem to be associated with his sculptural universe: Shine, Light, Wobbly, Melt. The canvases, in a print-run of 50 copies, are on sale for 7,800 euros. Wurm is represented by two influential galleries, the Austrian French gallery also based in London, Thaddaeus Ropac, and Lehmann Maupin, whose network spans Hong Kong to New York. These works are presented for, on average, between 100,000 and 500,000 euros.

Maeght gallery of the 21st century
The future of Lito is now concerned with two distinct tasks: finding a foothold in the institutional landscape through making relief copies of artworks. In parallel, the company’s catalogue is due to be broadly enriched by other names of artists who are not only making their mark in the current era but who are also capable of profiting from this unique technology. Lito could thus develop a sort of Maeght gallery of the 21st century, as in the postwar period when they produced lithograph prints by Alexander Calder and Joan Miro.

By Judith Benhamou
Source: Judith Benhamou Reports