At just over 40 years old, Nicolas Party is one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful artists of his generation. His colorful works, which are often described as a visual dialogue with famous painters like Magritte, have opened him the doors to Hauser & Wirth in 2019. His first exhibition with the mega-gallery is currently on view in Los Angeles, through a set of new paintings, sculptures and murals, which are miles away from his debuts as an amateur street artist. But how did Party rise from graffiti writing to international fame in only 10 years?
Nicolas Party’s inaugural show at Hauser & Wirth gallery in Los Angeles is an undeniable success. For this occasion, the artist has completely redecorated the hallways of this former wheat plant with stunning murals and site-specific installations which highlights his dreamy portraits, landscapes, sculptures and still lives. Although a bit darker than in the past, his works keeps their hypnotic beauty. We particularly enjoyed his colorful cave paintings which convey an impression of depth reinforced by stunning colors from dark turquoise to ruby-red.
And yet, Party’s early forays into the art world were not as « clean » as one may think. Indeed, the young artist developed his taste for murals during his teenage years by creating illegal graffiti in the streets of his native Switzerland. After graduating from Lausanne and Glasgow Schools of art in the late 2000’s, Party brought paint back to his studio, where he started creating cartoonish, surrealist-inspired still lives, portraits and landscapes in a very recognizable style.
And yet, Party’s taste for mural painting didn’t decline with age, as the artist kept painting monumental frescoes for the institutions he collaborated with, whether it be museums, foundations or galleries. Indeed, the artist explains that he learned how to paint on large surfaces in a short time during his graffiti years. As he once said, « you have a very clear time constraint, because you’re going to get caught if you take too long ».
These Instagram-friendly monumental paintings soon aroused keen interest among art galleries and collectors. The artist slowly built a network of international galleries around the world such as Kaufmann Repetto in Milan, Karma in New York or Xavier Hufkens in Belgium, which allowed him to present exhibitions in prestigious international institutions.
Party made a major move in 2017 by collaborating with the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington DC, where he got noticed by a few important American collectors such as Glenn Furham, founder of the Flag Art Foundation, who organized Party’s acclaimed solo show at the Foundation in 2019.
2018 was also a busy year for the artist, with a series of shows in high-profile institutions such as M WOODS in Beijing or the Magritte Museum in Brussels. On the commercial level, Party made his outstanding auction debut with the sale of a $330,000 painting at Phillips New York in May 2018, thus multiplying its low estimate 5-fold.
But Party’s prices were already booming before his auction debut on the primary market, and his colorful site-specific installations may have helped the process. Indeed, his 2018 chapel-like staging for Xavier Hufkens’ booth at Art Brussels attracted a lot of visitors and quickly sold out, with prices between $50,000 and $80,000. A year later, at Art Basel in Miami, Hauser & Wirth presented similar works for almost five times the price.
Party’s commercial success can be accounted for by the colorful simplicity and highly decorative value of his visual vocabulary. Indeed, his works immediately evoke well-known popular art movements such as surrealism, expressionism and even fauvism, which are reinterpreted by the artist in a very modern way. For this reason, Party appeals to both art professionals and the general public, and as a result, his prices have skyrocketed at auction in less than 2 years. He even crossed the 1 million mark last November with the sale of a $1.12 million painting at Christie’s Hong Kong.
Hauser & Wirth’s announcement in June 2019 has definitely had a huge impact on Party’s prices. However, his booming market rises concerns about speculation in a context where prices are high enough to « tempt a few early collectors to sell », according to his Belgian dealer Xavier Hufkens. And yet, Marc Payot, partner and vice president at Hauser & Wirth, who was quoted in a recent article published on Artnet about the artist, says that it is one of the reasons why the mega-gallery wanted to work with Party. Indeed, Hauser’s experience in dealing with speculation as well as its connections with prestigious museums will most certainly allow the artist to avoid these common traps and help him strengthen his market.