While auction houses have been betting big on digital platforms, some emerging artists have seen their popularity ratings go through the roof. One particular sale of note saw a Kudzanai-Violet Hwami painting reach a sales price of 252,000 dollars during Phillips’ 20th Century & Contemporary Sale.
This never previously-attained amount for the artist was generated for “Eve on Psilocybin,” estimated to fetch between 30,000 and 40,000 dollars. The previous auction record for the Zimbabwean artist was 48,994 dollars, set last October for the work “Sango neMuchero.”
Many upcoming artists have seen their works reach new heights during Phillips’ 20th Century & Contemporary Sale. The various sales under this umbrella allowed the auction house to amass a total of USD 162.4 million for this event. Robin F. Williams’s work “The Getaway (Study)” contributed to these impressive figures (USD 88,200), as did Jammie Holmes’s “Segregation” (USD 94,500) and Melike Kara’s “never enough” (USD 32,760).
But the most impressive sale at this auction was of “The Bathers” by Amy Sherald. While it was estimated at around 200,000 dollars, it sold for an impressive USD 4.27 million. The first time a work by this American painter, best known for a Michelle Obama portrait, reaches such a price. In fact, works by Sherald rarely make it to the auction market. The first time that a work by the artist came to auction was in May 2019, when “Innocent You, Innocent Me” sold for USD 350,000 at Christie’s.
This passion for emerging artists is not exclusive to the Phillips house, as Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Bonhams have all noticed rising interest in upcoming artists. “There’s always been an exuberance for emerging artists or young artists,” said David Galperin from Sotheby’s to Bloomberg. “Who the artist is changes, and the type of art changes, but what we’re seeing more and more is a narrowing of the gap, in terms of prices between those [emerging] markets and the more blue-chip markets.”
When the student surpasses the master
This phenomenon is so widespread that upcoming artist popularity ratings sometimes surpass that of more established artists on the market. One example is the late Matthew Wong, whose ratings have been increasing since the Canadian artist put on his first show in New York in 2018. His canvas “Coming of Age Landscape” recently reached 1.6 million dollars during a Christie’s “Contemporary Art Day Sale.” By way of comparison, “Untitled” by Jackson Pollock only fetched a sales price of 600,000 dollars during the same auction, surpassing its high estimate by just 50,000 dollars.
Is the art world craving young blood? Not necessarily. This passion for the newer generation is intrinsically linked with new millennial collectors looking to acquire works from artists that are like them. This phenomenon is also linked to the shrinkage of the “blue-chip” artists market. Which is not that surprising since auction houses don’t possess an infinite number of masterpieces by the likes of Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Andy Warhol and Lucian Freud to offer. In order to continue to offer new lots to their clients, their solution is to turn to younger generations of artists. And so we come full circle.
(Main and featured image: Phillips)