The Young or the Restless: Is the presence of emerging, young artists at auction a fruitful decision, or a reckless one?
Written by: Ilaria Bevan
Events over the last week have introduced the art enthusiast to the new crop of young painters who are sweeping up collectors in the latest auction sales and adorning the walls of Frieze London. With the ever-changing climate for what is ‘trendy’ in the art market and on the gallery walls, it is not entirely surprising that these up-and-coming young artists have burst onto the auction scene and, whether they like it or not, sell their work for sometimes up to six or seven figures to trump recognised artists from previous generations.
However, there is a double-edged sword to this success… how will these events play out? Will these artists’ careers blossom, or does their present success simply mark the beginning of their demise?
Three auctions held at the London headquarters of the world’s leading auction houses that took place last week set the scene: Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction (Thursday 14 October), Phillip’s 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale (Friday 15 October) and Christie’s 20th/21st Century Evening Sale (Friday 15 October).
Evening sales, in a very general sense, are understood to be more exciting than a day sale. Despite typically having fewer lots (or works being sold) than a day sale, these evening slots tend to have more impressive and expensive works of art for sale, attract more attention and generate more business from potential buyers. The formal atmosphere within the evening sales also contributes to the prestige of the artworks being sold at that event.
Nevertheless, this did not stop the auction house titans from putting these newly created works up for grabs.
Arguably the most exciting auction of the bunch was Sotheby’s. It was a highly anticipated affair, not only because it was the first live session in the Bond Street space for almost two years, but it also would be putting that Banksy work on the stand. Previously titled Girl with the Balloon, the picture had been rebaptised Love is in the Bin after its live destruction in 2018 and sold for an astonishing £16m (£18.582m with fees) to Nick Buckley Wood, the former director of Thaddaeus Ropac’s branch in Hong Kong, on behalf of a private Asian client who dialed in via telephone.
Sotheby’s European auctioneer and chairman, Oliver Barker, poised to bring down the hammer on Banksy’s Love is in the Bin for £16m.
But the Banksy sale was not the only shock of the night as it was also “the night for the hottest young artists”, according to The Art Newspaper, with eight making their debut in the evening circuit. Many of these artists shattered pre-sale expectations: Ewa Juszkiewicz’s Maria (After Johannes Cornelisz Verspronk, 2013) made ten times its estimate at £352,800; recent White Cube global representee, Cinga Samson’s picture Lift Off (2017) sold at a three times its estimate at £321,300; Flora Yakhnovich’s playful spin on Fragonard’s Rococo style, I’ll have what she;s having (2020) made shockingly made seven figures having been estimated a lowly £60,000 - £80,000, and the explosive abstract work entitled The Barefooted Scurry Home (2017) by Jadé Fadojutimi (whose picture Cavernous Resonance, 2020 features at the latest exhibition in the Hayward Gallery, London) sold for £825,700, four times its estimate. All aforementioned artists are under forty, with Fadojutimi being under thirty.
Eva Juszkiewicz, Maria (After Johannes Cinga Samson, Lift Off, 2017.
Cornelisz Verspronck), 2013.
Interestingly, Fadojutimi shattered her sale record from the night before at Phillip’s the following evening who sold her painting Myths of Pleasure (2017) for an astonishing £1.1m. Several years ago, Fadojutimi’s pictures were sold for a mere £6000 - £10,000 - pennies in comparison to her most recent prices. Likewise, Yukhnovich saw success at Phillip’s when Tondo (2016) was severely underestimated when it sold for £529,200, approximately ten times its pre-sale estimate.
Jade Fadojutimi, Myths of Pleasure, 2017.
Also coming off the back of the strong Sotheby’s sale was Christie’s sale that also comprised younger artists who saw similar success at auction. Of particular note was Hilary Pecis’ painting Kaba On A Chair (2019) which sold for just over four times its estimate at £225,000.
Hilary Pecis, Kaba On A Chair, 2019.
Whilst we must celebrate the successes for these young artists who seem to have continuously stolen the limelight from renowned artists at auction in recent years, we must also be cautious of the speed at which they are reaching this status and what impacts this might have on their future. Art advisor Bona Montagu wisely said, “I’m a bit concerned to see how much these young artists are being pushed at auctions like this. They’re still early in their careers. By creating these price levels, they are encouraging investors to buy art in the hope they will similarly inevitably increase enormously in value. That isn’t necessarily good for the artists.”.
And I completely agree.
Too much too early might lead to the demise of these young artists who clearly still have a lot of potential to tap into… In creating this primary market, auction houses will unknowingly instigate a lot of interest for work by young or mid-career painters. Without a secondary market providing information about these artworks there runs a risk of these artists simply becoming a passing trend and ultimately underperforming at auction in the future. Furthermore, these artists may be put under pressure to create works too quickly which might also lead to commercial burnout or, using a term coined by me in the article, Pollock-syndrome, referring to Pollock’s period of inactivity and artistic demise in the final years of his life.
Nevertheless, it is thrilling to see the auction houses setting new records and booming with business. Let’s just hope this trajectory and the nose for novelty continues for the younger artists, as much as it has for recent art market favourites such as Jean Michael Basquiat and Banksy.
Adams, Georgina. “Banksy record leads a smash-hit Sotheby’s auction which sees young artists soar to extraordinary heights.” Published on The Art Newspaper WebsiteOctober 15, 2021. https://www.theartnewspaper.com/2021/10/15/banksy-record-leads-a-smash-hit-sothebys-auction-which-sees-young-artists-soar-to-extraordinary-heights.
Brady, Anna, Gareth Harris, and Lee Cheshire. “Too much too young? The double-edged sword of early success for artists.” Published on The Art Newspaper Website October 15, 2021. https://www.theartnewspaper.com/2021/10/15/frieze-2021-young-british-painters.
Cassidy, Daniel. “Young, emerging artists continue to dominate Frieze week auctions as Phillips sets seven records.” Published on The Art Newspaper Website October 16, 2021. https://www.theartnewspaper.com/2021/10/16/young-emerging-artists-continue-to-dominate-frieze-week-auctions-as-phillips-sets-seven-records.
Christie’s. “Lot 5A. Hilary Pecis. Kaba on a Chair.” Christie’s 20th/21st Century: Evening Sale. Accessed October 18, 2021. https://www.christies.com/lot/lot-6339210?ldp_breadcrumb=back&intObjectID=6339210&from=salessummary&lid=1
Kinsella, Eilieen. “Young Painters Steal the Limelight From the Likes of Polke and Prince in Phillips’s $35 Million London Evening Sale.” Published on ArtNet News October 15, 2021. https://news.artnet.com/market/young-painters-steal-limelight-at-phillips-london-35-million-sale-2021451.
Phillips. “Lot 2. Flora Yukhnovich. Tondo.” Phillips’ 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale. Accessed October 18, 2021. https://www.phillips.com/detail/flora-yukhnovich/UK010921/2.
Phillips. “Lot 3. Jadé Fadojutimi. Myths of Pleasure.” Phillips’ 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale. Accessed October 18, 2021. https://www.phillips.com/detail/jade-fadojutimi/UK010921/3.
Rea, Naomi. “Works by Young Artists Boosted Phillips’s Solid $34 Million Sale to Kick Off the Fall Auction Season in London.” Published on ArtNet News October 20, 2020. https://news.artnet.com/market/phillips-london-fall-2020-young-artists-1916858.
Seymour, Tom. “Young female painters and bored apes turn heads at Christie's £64.6m auction.” Published on The Art Newspaper Website October 15, 2021. https://www.theartnewspaper.com/2021/10/15/emerging-female-painters-and-bored-apes-turn-heads-at-christies-auction.
Sotheby’s. “Lot 35. Jadé Fadojutimi. The Barefooted Scurry Home.” Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction. Accessed October 18, 2021. https://www.sothebys.com/en/buy/auction/2021/contemporary-art-evening-auction-2/the-barefooted-scurry-home.
Sotheby’s. “Lot 4. Flora Yukhnovich. I’ll Have What She’s Having.” Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction. Accessed October 18, 2021. https://www.sothebys.com/en/buy/auction/2021/contemporary-art-evening-auction-2/ill-have-what-shes-having-2.
Sotheby’s. “Lot 41. Cinga Samson. Lift Off.” Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction. Accessed October 18, 2021. https://www.sothebys.com/en/buy/auction/2021/contemporary-art-evening-auction-2/lift-off-2.
Sotheby’s. “Lot 6. Ewa Juszkiewicz. Maria (After Johannes Cornelisz Verspronk).” Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction. Accessed October 18, 2021. https://www.sothebys.com/en/buy/auction/2021/contemporary-art-evening-auction-2/maria-after-johannes-cornelisz-verspronck.