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London Frieze week auctions: the young are stronger than ever

Updated: Jan 17, 2022

Although emerging artists have already been on the roll in most auction rooms these last few years, London Frieze week auctions this October may well have been their highest point to date. Tens of new records were set—some of them above one million dollars—for up-and-coming painters whose clients are often as young as they are. For instance, Phillip’s and Christie’s recorded their highest proportion of bidders under 40 this season. They are shaping a new market driven by trends—and sometimes speculation—where everything goes way faster than it used to be.

International collectors were more than eager to spend millions on fresh new talents at Phillip’s Evening sale, since seven artists broke their auction record that day. Speaking of seven-figure records, both Shara Hughes and Jadé Fadojutimi reached their all-time highs by selling large-scale paintings for $1.19 and $1.6 million respectively. They were followed by Sanya Kantarovsky, whose more difficult painting "No Eyes" was nevertheless acquired for a record-breaking $536,000. In the same price range, Issy Wood surpassed her previous record from March with a smaller car interior canvas that sold for a remarkable $451,000.

"Myths of Pleasure" was acquired for $1.6 million at Sotheby's

More established artists also performed quite well during Phillip’s evening sale. For instance, Günther Förg made one of his best results yet with a $848,000 spot painting. His German counterpart André Butzer broke his record with the $555,000 sale of an early monumental painting from 2003. Among blue chip profiles, Yayoi Kusama was one of the most successful. She sold a black and silver large Infinity Net painting from the early 2010s for an outstanding $2.53 million, one of her best results for this type of artwork. Last but not least, an important painting by British artist Chris Ofili, with a prestigious exhibition history including the Venice Biennale and the Tate Modern, was acquired for a satisfying $1,4 million.

Issy Wood broke her auction record with this $451,000 velvet painting

Phillip’s day sale was a bit more disappointing, with only a handful of interesting lots. Among them was a mirror painting by Rashid Johnson selling for $250,000, close from a small Claire Tabouret canvas that was acquired for a remarkable $170,000—her second best result for this type of portrait. George Condo performed well too with a mid-sized canvas from his Imaginary Portraits series that was acquired for $1.11 million.

The $3.1 million painting by Flora Yukhnovich

Sotheby’s recorded the highest-grossing Evening sale of London Frieze week this year. This session was remarkably less centered on emerging profiles, with only eight artists under 40 out of the 44 lots presented that evening. Among them, the most talked-about piece was undoubtedly Flora Yukhnovich’s Cecily Brown-inspired artwork, acquired for a record-breaking $3.1 million. The artist, who is in her early 30s, had made her auction debut only a few months prior to this result. A new record was also set for another young female artist: Ewa Juszkiewicz. The Polish painter sold a classical oil painting for $486,000, which would be surpassed two days later at Christie’s.

Banky's historical painting was acquired for more than $25 million

Blue chip artists clearly dominated Sotheby’s Evening session, especially Banksy who topped the sale with his historical shredded canvas for a whopping $25.6 million­—it had fetched $1.4 million at auction in 2018 when the work self-destructed, a substantial gain for the seller. Other top lots included three Gerhard Richter abstract paintings that sold between $8 and $13 million, and a beautiful $4.16 million Mappa by Alighiero Boetti, his second best all-time result. Sotheby’s day sale had a few interesting lots, most of them from young artists. For instance, the young American female painter Hilary Pecis made her second auction record with a $381,000 painting. But the most successful emerging artist of the sale was even younger. Indeed, 18-year-old digital artist Fewocious sold a mixed-media work accompanied by an NFT for an astonishing $2.85 million. Christie’s Evening Sale was not far behind Sotheby’s with its $88 million global revenue. However, it started at 2 p.m. BST this year to better receive calls from Honk Kong and New York. Just like its rival, most of this amount was made thanks to major artworks by blue chip artists. The top lot was a $11.3 million Basquiat, followed by other multi-million artworks from David Hockney, Lucio Fontana and Alexander Calder. Three beautiful paintings by mid-career artists Mark Bradford, George Condo,and Cecily Brown were also acquired in the same price range, around $3.5 million—a great performance, especially for the last two. Moreover, two mid-sized Infinity Nets by the Japanese artist were acquired for the same price at $2.35 million.

Alighiero Boetti made his second best auction restult with this $4.16 million Mappa

As for the new emerging scene, there were relatively few interesting paintings presented during Christie’s Evening sale. Among them, Julie Curtiss sold a canvas for a respectable $345,000, preceded by a large portrait by Claire Tabouret acquired for $380,000. Last but not least, Shara Hughes and Hilary Pecis both finished the week on a high note with a $600,000 and a $310,000 canvas respectively.

This painting is André Butzer's new auction record, set at $555,000

Among the few interesting lots from Christie’s day sale, there were familiar names such as Flora

Yukhnovich, who confirmed her price level with a mid-sized $1.25 million canvas—similar artworks were on sale for $30,000 at Victoria Miro only a few months ago. Ewa Juszkiewicz broke her record for the second time this week with a $600,000 canvas. Another newcomer performed quite well during the sale in the person of Tunji Adeniyi-Jones. The British artist sold a colorful canvas for a respectable $210,000. Last but not least, André Butzer confirmed his auction rise with a $265,000 canvas from 2005.

In conclusion, the market was particularly high this Fall, with collectors willing to spend millions on young artists. As a consequence, the three main auction houses renewed with their 2018 pre-crisis level. It was also the first major auction sessions with buyers present in the room, although they only represented a small proportion of the sales. However, as in previous years, Banksy accounted for a substantial part of the global revenue, with more than $30 million worth of sales that week. Despite these good results, London October sessions remain at a level far below other major sales, and especially New York where numerous eight-figure works are regularly presented. Next November in the Big Apple should be no exception, given the sale of the Macklowe collection, among other traditional high-level evening sessions. But the most dramatic change this Fall lied in the age of collectors. Indeed, according to Phillip’s head of postwar and contemporary in Europe Katharine Arnold, who was recently interviewed by Artnet, there were twice as many bidders under 40 compared with last year. Similarly, a quarter of the bidders who registered for Sotheby’s evening sale were under 40. This radical change in collector profiles has a huge impact on the market. Indeed, artworks are no longer seen as long term investments since purchase decisions are increasingly made following the hottest trends by highly connected individuals from the digital generation. Selection means have also changed on the market, as museums for instance are forced to align with the preferences of the market. As an example, an artist like Cinga Samson, who performed well at auction in 2021 has his first large-scale museum show at the Flag Art Foundation this Fall—and he is far from being the only one. Among these new profiles, some will undoubtedly remain in art history, but who are they?



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