The Heat Index

Analyzing the Churn of New Market Stars in the London Auctions

Analyzing the Churn of New Market Stars in the London Auctions
Banksy's googly-eyed Rembrandt from 2009 earned $650,000 at Phillips in London on Tuesday, easily beating a $410,000 high estimate.


 —  The most striking trend in the London round of contemporary auctions held this week was not to be found among the usual headline grabbers—Bacon, Richter, Warhol—though they all performed true to form. Rather it could be seen among the young emerging talents who inevitably flair up now and again.

Lucien Smith—having entered the auction field just last November when Phillips New York moved a painting from his 2011 senior thesis show at Cooper Union for $389,000 (est. $100,000 to $150,000)—saw his Tuesday evening entry at Phillips London more than triple its high estimate at $320,000.The next evening, a painting at Sotheby's brought $224,500, followed by a Thursday evening entry at Christie's that fetched $263,000—both roughly quadrupling estimates. At Phillips's Wednesday day sale, there were two more Smith's, both carrying estimates of $16,500 to $24,500, one staying at the high estimate, the other tripling it.

Oscar Murillo, meanwhile, continued his even more impressive run. Of 28 sales since last May at the three main contemporary houses—an astounding figure in and of itself—only two have remained within the confines of their estimates. Fredrik Vaerslev, who first came under the hammer last June and has hurdled estimates in every showing since, sold Tuesday evening at Phillips for $80,000 against a high estimate of $50,000; the next day at the same house, a smaller painting earned a respectable, but within estimate, $13,300. 

Phillips, to some degree, built its reputation a decade ago by finding such young high flyers, unfamiliar names who would make a splash. Many have gone on to longer-term success, growing up to perform within estimates at the larger houses' day sales, then moving into the fray in the evening. But what is new and a little startling is the willingness of the houses to commit to such a high number of lots from these market newcomers (four for Murillo this week, five for Smith, and just two for Vaerslev), and in the case of Smith, their readiness to turn over valued evening-sale slots to such an untested talent.

This volume of lots by freshly minted artists who have had a limited number of shows indicates a pool of investor-collectors who are more attracted by the numbers from last month's auctions than by the works (or artists) themselves. Inevitably, these artists will continue to turn up in sales as long as there is undiminished interest in their work. The auction houses, however, could prove themselves better stewards of the art community if they were to take a longer-term perspective on these young talents' careers.

 —  Amid a wealth of data in the Annual Investment Report from Skate's Art Investment Review were a mixed bag of figures on the blue-chip market for female artists. On the downside, the top 10 auction performers over time continue to earn a fraction of the top male auction earners, and only four—Joan Mitchell, Louise Bourgeois, Agnes Martin, and Berthe Morisot—had works that even ranked among the top 5,000 lots of 2013. On the up side, this pool has formed a reliable and stable upper echelon among female artists, and Martin and Morisot notched new records in 2013, at $6.5 and $10.9 million, respectively. Even more encouraging for the the broader market is the strength among living contemporary artists: Julie Mehretu saw three of her works among the top 5,000, including one that sold for $4.6 million. The analysts predicted even stronger performance in the coming years for paintings by Cecily Brown and Jenny Saville.


 —  Jane Chu of Kansas City's Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts got the nod from Obama this week to head the National Endowment for the Arts, but it was Thelma Golden, director and chief curator at the Studio Museum in Harlem, who had the president's ear. The recent split between French president Francois Hollande and his longtime companion left a gap in the seating chart for Tuesday's state dinner at the White House. Golden filled the seat next to Obama, but has so far offered no postprandial account of their discussion. 

 —  New York is losing another piece of its cultural patrimony, but, as with Moby—who moved West a couple years back and penned an open letter on Creative Time's website this month telling artists to give up on overpriced New York and migrate to L.A.—Gotham's loss is Los Angeles's gain. For the next two years, workers at The Kitchen will be packing up material documenting the nonprofit's first 30 years and shipping them off to the Getty Museum. Founded in 1971, the legendary downtown performance space and gallery has provided essential support for creative types ranging from Laurie Anderson, Trisha Brown, and Barbara Kruger to the Talking Heads and Fab 5 Freddy. No real need for locals to mourn, however, because, although the past is being sent away, we have the still-vital space itself. Stop by.  

 —  Los Angeles Modern Auctions is hoping for a encore performance by Vija Celmins next weekend. Last May, the house set a record for an early period oil by the artist (who has become better known for meticulous graphite works) when her painting of a knife and plate took $587,500. On February 23, LAMA will offer Untitled (Ham Hock) (1964) done in a similarly spare but intensely realistic style, with an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. 


—  Maybe his positive attitude helped David Shrigley to land his first commission for a work of public sculpture—and what a commission it is. Last week, it was announced he will be the 11th contemporary artist selected to take over the fourth plinth, an unoccupied pedestal in London's Trafalgar Square. In 2016, he will install Really Good, a 30-foot-tall cartoonish thumbs-up in bronze whose feel-good message, the artist said, is meant to "dissuade social unrest, help the economy, and decrease rates of absenteeism in state schools." The same panel selected Hans Haacke's more arch bronze sculpture of a horse skeleton lassoed to a digital stock market ticker to fill the spot next year.

 —  Last year, SITE Santa Fe, New Mexico's leading contemporary art venue, announced plans to shake up its widely respected international biennial by focusing on art of the Americas. This month, director and curator Irene Hoffmann announced the final list of artists selected to participate in the exhibition that debuts on July 20. Among the 45 artists and collectives, 21, including Andrea Bowers, Liz Cohen, Agnes Denes, and Jason Middlebrook, have connections to the United States. Minerva Cuevas and Antonio Vega Macotela are among the half-dozen Mexican representatives, while the only artists invited from the booming Brazilian art scene are Clarissa Tossin and Anna Bella Geiger.


—  After leading the arts community outreach for the Bloomberg administration as the New York City cultural affairs commissioner, Kate Levin plans to put that experience to work for nonprofits around the country as the inaugural fellow at the National Center for Arts Research. Based at Southern Methodist University since its founding in 2012, NCAR analyzes the arts industry, and Levin plans to help museums around the country make use of that research. 

—  Nicolas Bourriard, director of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, has been appointed director of the Taipei Biennial 2014, which is set to open this September. The critic and curator may be best known for coining the term "Relational Aesthetics," under whose banner he championed the work of Rirkrit Tiravanija, Carsten Höller, and Liam Gillick.


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