How Joe Bradley’s Prices Surged 1,100% in Five Years: Hot Art

``Human Form''
Installation view of ``Human Form'' by Joe Bradley at Canada Gallery in New York. The silkscreens on canvas represent a new direction for the artist. Prices range from $30,000 to $50,000. Source: Canada gallery via Bloomberg

Joe Bradley, 35, is a man with two art shows running now in New York, each with works done in a totally different style. Take that, Picasso.

At Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, an established gallery in the West Village, Bradley is showing messy, large-scale abstract paintings made with oilstick instead of paint brushes. The works feature Bradley’s footprints, comic-book imagery, dirt, dust and references to abstract expressionism and primitivism. Prices range from $40,000 to $70,000.

Canada, a cavelike emerging-art gallery on the Lower East Side, is offering Bradley’s black-and-white silkscreens of male silhouettes. Each is making funny hand gestures, squatting and bending. Titled “Human Form,” the show brought to mind Pop Art, Greco-Roman sculpture and The Bangles’ video of pop hit “Walk like an Egyptian.” Prices range from $30,000 to $50,000.

The art sells like crazy.

All paintings at Gavin Brown’s “Mouth and Foot Painting” exhibition were gone by the time actor Steve Martin, sporting a Politburo hat, rolled up on his bicycle for the snowy Jan. 8 opening.

“He managed to manufacture two shows at two different locations,” said Phil Grauer, a co-owner of Canada, Bradley’s dealer since 2005. “It’s kind of like cooking. Who are you cooking for? Who is coming for dinner?”

The difference between the two shows is in line with Bradley’s shifting approach to art.

“Once again, Joe’s fooling around with the collectors’ expectations,” Grauer said with a sigh.

Monochrome Robots

The day of the opening, Grauer received numerous calls from collectors who saw the Gavin Brown show and wanted Bradley’s abstract paintings. He didn’t have any, and it made him a little worried.

Between Bradley’s first solo show at Canada in 2006 and the Gavin Brown’s exhibition, his prices increased 1,100 percent. Back then, his robot-like forms made of monochrome canvases were offered for $6,000. They didn’t immediately sell, but dealer Javier Peres spotted the artist and gave him a solo show in Los Angeles the following year. That got the attention of curator Shamim Momin, who included Bradley’s robots in the Whitney Biennial in 2008.

Suddenly, everyone wanted a robot, Grauer said. But for his next show with Canada, Bradley delivered a group of sparse oilstick drawings on dirty unprimed canvases. Called “Schmagoo Paintings,” the group included one canvas with number 23 drawn on it, one with a cross and a third with just one horizontal line.

‘Roll With Joe’

“I was like, ‘What? We cannot do that! Do you have some of those robots?’” Grauer recalls telling the artist. “I was jokingly telling Joe that he was throwing away a perfectly good career as a monochrome painter.”

Despite the change, Bradley’s career and prices kept rising. In 2009, he was included in Charles Saatchi’s “Abstract America” exhibition in London. In February 2010, blue-chip Chelsea gallery Mitchell-Innes & Nash showed Bradley’s blank large canvases in a group show, with prices ranging from $22,000 to $24,000. In November 2010, his robot painting “Good Foot” (2008) fetched $60,000 at Phillips de Pury auction house in New York, up from the presale estimate of $15,000 to $20,000.

Canada placed more than a half of the silkscreens in less than 24 hours of the opening last week. Most buyers already owned Bradley’s work and were familiar with his propensity for change, said Grauer.

“They are willing to roll with Joe and with the prices,” he said. “Joe is a brand they can trust.”

(Katya Kazakina is a reporter for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)

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