◊ Rotation into young emerging artists and artists of color is reaching a boiling point
Emerging western artists and artists of color already represented the most ebullient part of the Christie’s Hong-Kong sale on December 2 and that trend does not show any sign of abatement, escalating to another level at Phillips and Sotheby’s Evening sales in New York last week.
As an example, one of Amy Sherald's works, acclaimed for her portrait of Michelle Obama, titled “The Bathers” (2015), sold for $4.3m with fees, more than 20 times its high estimate of $200,000.
Amy Sherald, The Bathers (2015). Image courtesy Phillips
A sample of the Phillips ' sales speaks volumes:
A catch-up in market recognition and validation was certainly more than warranted for non-white & female artists, the magnitude of this trend is nevertheless disconcerting. It is also quite detrimental both to the artist's career, whose creativity is often strained by such excessive market reactions, and to the price trend itself, which tends to deflate violently after an excessive surge in prices.
* This term, coined by art critic Walter Robinson, describes paintings that closely resemble the American abstraction championed by Clement Greenberg. The appellation is amusing, but not devoid of insight. The « zombie » element refers to a reincarnation of the somewhat forgotten (rejected) aesthetics of works by Pollock, Morris Louis and Frank Stella, etc., and « formalism » in reference to the attractive elegance of a reductivist (even essentialist) style of painting, but without any new artistic intentions… Art Price Report '20 Years of Contemporary Art Auction History, 2000-2020'
The 'rotation' of interest into younger generations originates, to a certain extend, from a change of taste, but it remains to be seen how much is due to a 'risk-on' approach and speculative behavior, in an environment of general cravings for strong returns (equally observed in financial markets through the recent stellar results of tech IPO's such as Palantir or AIRBNB).
And to cite Amy Cappellazzo from Sotheby's 'we are now clearly in a "more commercially-oriented rather than connoisseur-based market cycle".
As a cautionary tale, the exuberance for emerging artists has always been around. The most recent frenzy around Zombie formalism*, which culminated in a speculative bubble (between 2012 and 2014) can be used as a reminder of a market that collapses after prices reached an unsustainable level.
Turnover meltdown of ‘Zombie Formalism’ artists between 2014 and 2016, as calculated by Artprice:
Lucien SMITH ↘ -95%
Jacob KASSAY ↘ -89%
Oscar MURILLO ↘ -85%
Christian ROSA ↘ -82%
One could argue that the current interest in artists of color and female artists is more sustainable that the Zombie formalism, as it stems from a healthy rebalancing of art history and the powerful narrative of inclusion and diversity cannot be objectively compared to any recent art movement. Nevertheless we remain wary of such extreme price movements in times of excessive liquidity and complacency.
Some of these artists will not stand the test of time, and time has a tendency to speed up these days.
◊ Well-crafted auctions conclude a tough year on a positive note
The auction season wraps up on a mitigated note. Overall, an uneven global economic recovery, riddled with uncertainties, translates in overall ongoing cautiousness. Impressionist and Modern art still experiences a softening of demand, while speculation on emerging market darlings gets ever hotter, which is driving the performance of final prices (high percentage of final price above high estimate in the chart above).
Auction houses are playing it safe, by crafting well-controlled sales, that avoid sending negative signals to the market. One tool used is the withdrawal of lots that fail to attract sufficient inquiring interest ahead of the sale, and are withdrawn in the last remaining hours. Of the 30 lots offered at the Sotheby's New York sale, 5 were pulled, including an Edvard Munch work expected to sell for between US$3 million and US$4 million.
What's more, of the 25 lots remaining, 15 had either a guarantee or were secured by an irrevocable bid, thus making sure the bought-in rate remained exceptionally low.
This is a common aspect of all the December sales, bought-in rates have been extremely reduced, a trigger signal for art market confidence. Blue-chip lots did pretty well — Phillips sold a 1980 landscape by David Hockney for $41 million, and Sotheby’s sold a large mobile by Alexander Calder for $18 million, more than doubling its high estimate of $8 million — while Christie's offered a stunning $9 million Toulouse-Lautrec from the estate of Henry Ford II.
◊ An inspiration for the self-indulging art consumerist
Multi-million works, triple-digit auction performances.... let's not forget that it is the physical encounter with art and the emotional experiences it yields that confer art its real value. The Financial Times published an inspiring article about a mobile museum called 'MuMo', launched in 2010 by Ingrid Brochard, to take contemporary art across Europe and Africa to children and communities who never got a chance to see it.
https://neurartic.blogspot.com: MuMo at a schoolyard in Cameroon
Ingrid Brochard imagined a traveling museum that gets to the children in places that are sometimes very remote. The idea is to provide them with a rare moment of confrontation with Modern and Contemporary art. But it will also create opportunities to create a genuine interaction with the artists during workshops and performances.
As Ingrid Brochard pointed out, beyond geographical barriers (lack of museums in a region) there are also strong psychological barriers for people to take their children to a museum, ‘We met parents who told us that they weren’t comfortable bringing their kids to museums because they thought they were not smart enough to explain it to them, or they felt they didn’t have the correct social codes. ‘
That’s what Brochard wants to take a crack at. She aims to transcend differences like social background, nationality, gender and religion, to open up the children to other worlds and experience new inspiration from the interaction with artworks, in a safe environment.
https://www.fraciledefrance.com; MuMo 2, design matali crasset production. Photo © Philippe Piron
Now MuMo is teaming up with the Centre Pompidou in Paris for a new collaboration that will transport the collections of one of France’s most prestigious museums way beyond its four walls. In the months ahead, modern masterpieces by such artists as Victor Vasarely, Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso and Piet Mondrian will hit the road, alongside a full programme of creative workshops and events, working with local communities and art institutions.
Backers of the project are French entrepreneur Frédéric Jousset and Vincent Bolloré and since its launch MuMo has welcomed more than 150,000 visitors from 7 countries in Europe and Africa.
In this holiday season, we really wanted to highlight this venture, that reminds us that art should be accessible to the largest possible audience and a moment of inspiration for everyone.
We wish you all a very reinvigorating time with your loved ones over the holiday season and would be pleased to see you again in a 'normal' context in 2021!
More to follow in 2021 !
The LINK Management team