Source: Sotheby’s via Bloomberg

The Babies of the 1980s Are Taking Over the Art Market

The baby boom continues, with young artists selling for millions at auction

So much for the trope of the starving young artist.

If this week’s postwar and contemporary art auctions in London are any indication, abstract painters born after 1980 are doing just fine. 

The fact that young artists’ inoffensive, colorful abstract paintings are doing well at auction isn’t news—many of them, such as Lucien Smith, Alex Israel, Israel Lund, Oscar Murillo, Parker Ito, and Tauba Auerbach (a rare woman in this field) have been around for several years. What is surprising: The bubble so many predicted in these young artists’ secondary markets seems, for the time being at least, to be ironclad.

Phillips, which specializes in bringing just this type of young artist to auction, dominated the field, which had 29 lots by artists under 1980, not including buy-ins and withdrawn lots.

At Sotheby’s, 20 works by artists born after 1980 went up for sale. A decent 14 of those sold, with 10 selling above their high estimate. 

Christie’s numbers were slightly smaller, with 12 works by artists in the category. Astonishingly, all of them sold, with eight selling well above their high estimates.

Secondary Market Growth

Many of the artists in this category have seen dozens of their paintings show up at auction. Oscar Murillo (born in 1986), for instance, first saw his paintings sell on the secondary market in 2013; there have since been more than 50 auction sales of his work, with prices as high as $400,000. He is represented by the powerful Zwirner gallery and has drawn mega-collector devotees such as Donald and Mera Rubell. He’s not, in other words, an unknown quantity.

Others were comparatively untested.

Until this week, just three works by the Belgian abstract painter Harold Ancart (born 1980) had ever come to auction. (The first was in 2013, when one of his paintings sold for $19,000 at Sotheby’s in London.) This week, that number doubled. Two of his paintings sold at Sotheby’s for just under $100,000, triple and quadruple their high estimates. Another painting sold at Christie’s for $91,440, also well above its high estimate of $60,000. 

In a field often rife with speculators, the boom in young artist markets should be taken with a grain of salt. Even the highest flyers’ markets can crash to ground.

Below are the top sales of young artists this week. As in the rest of the postwar and contemporary auction market, just a few artists dominated the most expensive lots. 

1. Auerbach, Untitled (Fold) — $1,827,800 

Tauba Auerbach,

Tauba Auerbach, Untitled (Fold) (2009)

Source: Phillips via Bloomberg

2. Israel, Sky Backdrop — $769,880

Alex Israel,

Alex Israel, Sky Backdrop (2013)

Source: Phillips via Bloomberg

3. Israel, Untitled (Triptych) — $464,729

Alex Israel,

Alex Israel, Untitled (Triptych) (2012)

Source: Sotheby’s via Bloomberg

4. Murillo, Untitled — $332,776

Oscar Murillo

Oscar Murillo, Untitled (2011)

Source: Christie’s via Bloomberg

5. Murillo, Bingo — $313,880

Oscar Murillo,

Oscar Murillo, Bingo (2012)

Source: Phillips via Bloomberg

6. Smith, It Happened One Night — $279,225

Lucien Smith,

Lucien Smith, It Happened One Night (2012)

Source: Phillips via Bloomberg

7. Arunanondchai, Untitled (History Painting) — $114,330

Korakrit Arunanondchai,

Korakrit Arunanondchai, Untitled (History Painting) (2012)

Source: Sotheby’s via Bloomberg

8. Ostrowski, F (Ploetzlich Prinzessin) — $113,985

David Ostrowski,

David Ostrowski, F (Ploetzlich Prinzessin) (2011)

Source: Phillips via Bloomberg

9. Pendleton, Black Dada — $104,803

Adam Pendleton,

Adam Pendleton, Black Dada (2011)

Source: Sotheby’s via Bloomberg

10. Ancart, Untitled — $99,086 

Harold Ancart,

Harold Ancart, Untitled (2012)

Source: Sotheby’s via Bloomberg


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