Counter culture: As Brit Art prices shot into the stratosphere, one website championed affordable works

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Charlotte Philby celebrates 10 years of Counter Editions

By the end of the 1990s, the British art scene had been transformed. It was 10 years since Damien Hirst and fellow Goldsmiths students had held their first Freeze show at a shabby London Docklands warehouse – and with the backing of Charles Saatchi, the new order had been firmly established.

The Brit Art revolution was hailed by some as the democratisation of a previously closed scene, opening the doors to those who would have once found them firmly locked – such as a mouthy, working-class girl from Margate whose autobiographical works include a piece called Fucking Down an Alley. The irony was, of course, that by the time Tracey Emin really made her impression – in 1999, when her installation My Bed was nominated for the Turner Prize – only a small élite could afford her work. It seemed that the more accepted the outsider artists became, the less accessible they were to their fans, as the price-tags on their work started to reflect their growing international success.

Enter Counter Editions. As the defining decade of the enfant terrible was drawing to a close, Carl Freedman – one-time boyfriend of Emin, former flatmate of Hirst and curator of the first east-London warehouse exhibitions of the late 1980s – decided that it was time to make desirable contemporary art more widely available.

Freedman's plan was not just to sell pieces at an affordable price; he also wanted to bring work to those who wouldn't otherwise have access. "Anyone living outside London," he says, "couldn't have seen, let alone got their hands on, a lot of this work, even if they had the money to buy it." In order to redress the balance, Freedman founded an online gallery selling one-off pieces by sought-after artists at relatively affordable prices. Thanks to his "long-standing personal and professional relationships" with artists such as Gary Hume and Sam Taylor-Wood, Freedman was able to draw in some of the biggest names in the British art world. To date, the fastest-selling pieces on the Counter Editions website have included an Emin etching of a small bird entitled Sometimes I Feel Lonely But It's OK, and a Sam Taylor-Wood image called Ivan, of a Russian ballet dancer.

Since countereditions.com was first launched in 2000, the American painter Elizabeth Peyton, the photographer Mario Testino and the visual artist Roni Horn have joined the list of those who've created never-before-seen limited-edition artworks for sale solely on this site. And in a unique partnership, many of these offers have been made exclusively available over the years at a reduced price to the readers of this magazine – including Christopher Wool's print My House I (2000), Chris Ofili's Regal (2002) and Gillian Wearing's portrait of supermodel Lily Cole (2009).

Now, to celebrate its 10th anniversary, Counter Editions is holding an exhibition of 50 artworks from across the decade, including a series of etchings by Tracey Emin as well as several new works. Prices will range from around £350 to £1,000.

Readers of The Independent Magazine are also being given the chance to own a brand new colour screenprint of a painting by Gary Hume – shown here on the right. There are just 250 prints available in total and each is signed, dated and numbered by the artist. Entitled Vicious (2010), the piece was inspired by the classic Lou Reed song and, according to Hume, is about the concept of violent beauty.

The exhibition 'Ten Years' is at the Carl Freedman Gallery, 44a Charlotte Rd, London EC2, from Wednesday to 5 June. See countereditions.com

How to buy an exclusive edition of 'Vicious' (2010) by Gary Hume

The Independent Magazine has secured 20 copies of Vicious (2010) by Gary Hume, available exclusively to readers at the guaranteed launch price of £390 (compared to the normal price of £490).

The print, produced exclusively for Counter Editions, is a 12-colour screen print on Somerset tub-size paper. Measuring 89 x 75 cm (35 x 29.5 in) it is produced in a strictly limited run of 250, and each is signed, numbered and dated by the artist. It is also available framed (£570) in maple frame sprayed with soft white lacquer measuring 96 x 77 cm (38 x 30 in). The limited-edition print is available on a first-come first-served basis, from today.

To buy a print of Vicious (2010), visit countereditions.com/independent and follow the on-screen instructions. Or call Counter Editions on 020-7684 8888, Mon-Sat, 10am-6pm. Postage within the UK and VAT is included in the price. Delivery by UPS courier will arrive within 10 working days for unframed prints and within 28 days for framed. For full terms and conditions, visit countereditions.com or call 020-7684 8888

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