New wave of bright talents stay away from the auction houses

Stefano Pirovano

After being sleepy for a couple of months or so the heart of contemporary art market is ready to beat again, starting from the Armory Show in New York, and the good news is that auction houses aren’t straining it any more, particularly in regards with young artists. The new wave of talents that is coming after the great disillusion about David Ostrowski, Lucien Smith, Hugh Scott Duglas or Oscar Murillo – that is to say the first generation of artists that has experienced auctions and massive on-line communication at a very early stage of their career – is bringing some fresh air and more realistic hopes.

Moreover, the careers of those emerging artists who have successfully stayed away from the insane speculation occurred between 2013 and 2015 have grown steadily, and the upcoming Venice Biennial is confirming they took the right path. That is the case, for instance, of Katja Novitskova, who will be exhibited at the pavilion of Estonia as well as having an upcoming solo show at the Public Art Fund in New York. Or, it is also the case of the newest Berlin art start, Ann Imhof, who will lighten up the German pavilion at the Giardini probably with one of her performances. Despite their remarkable success, neither Ann nor Katja had any piece auctioned up to now. No pieces auctioned yet also for Nicolas Party, Kasper Bosmans, Park McArthur, Peppi Bottrop, Lili Reinaud Dewar, Marina Pinksy, Puppies Puppies, Andrea Crespo, Kmr Mooney, just to name a few of the hot names right now.

Having said so, the catalogues of the contemporary art auctions that are going to take place in London the week after the Armory Show are confirming this view (Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillip’s). None of the most wanted youngsters has pieces for sale, while the four artists mentioned above – Ostrowski, Smith, Douglas, and Murillo – are now even cheaper than last year. Wyatt Khan also has two pieces for sale, one at Phillip’s and one at Sotheby’s. This latter, the most expensive one, is estimated to sell between 60.000 and 80.000 GBP, which is half of the price paid for a similar piece in 2014 at Phillip’s. Khan, born 1983, hasn’t seen any Biennial yet, unlike Adrian Ghenie, born 1977, who represented Romania at the Venice Biennale in 2015. He has 2 pieces at Phillip’s, two at Christie’s and even 5 pieces on sale at Sotheby’s, the more expensive of which is estimated to sell between 2.000.000 and 3.000.000 GBP. With an auction record of 7.1 million GBP (Christie’s, Oct 2016) he is even more expensive than Damien Hirst was at his age.

At this point it may be also worth going back to the list of artists selected in 2011 by Bice Curiger for the international pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Some of them were Carol Bove, Mariana Castillo Deball, Latífa Echakhch, Omer Fast, Urs Fischer, Cyprien Gaillard, Ryan Gander, Rashid Johnson, Klara Lidén, Amalia Pica, Seth Price, Josh Smith, Monika Sosnowska, Frances Stark, Oscar Tuazon, Andro Wekua. Among this impressive group of artists only Urs Fischer, Rashid Johnson, Klara Lidén, Seth Price and Carol Bove have seen their pieces sold at auctions for more than 80.000 GBP, while the others, all born in the 70s, have no significant public selling in their records yet – despite their granitic curriculum vitae. It must be said that the prices paid at auctions in these cases are generally similar, or a bit lower than the prices asked by the galleries. Six years after Curiger’s seminal Biennale this may confirm that the market for these artists is real and, what counts more, consistent with their achievements. All of them are still on the scene, and are supported by main galleries which will probably be able to bring them into the next decade. This would also warn collectors of the threats hiding behind figurative art, which according to auctions now is as fashionable as abstract art back two years ago.

February 23, 2017