Rashid Johnson’s TO THE LEFT (2012)
Coinciding with New York’s annual Armory show and the subsequent influx of interest around favorite artists in the primary market, the March Contemporary auctions at Phillips, Sotheby’s and Christie’s offer another spotlight on emerging artists. Earlier this month, each house announced its highlights for these auction which feature works by postwar staples such as Wayne Thiebaud, Donald Judd and Lee Bontecou. Familiar blue-chip names like Yayoi Kusama, George Condo and Cecily Brown tend to dominate the sold results in the core market. Yet, the mid-season sales are often less predictable in outcome than the Day and Evening auctions.
Among the ultra-contemporary works (by artists born after the mid-1970s) available at a more affordable five-figure price range in this week’s contemporary sales are by Chicago-born conceptual artist, Rashid Johnson. Johnson is represented by Hauser and Wirth and has been featured in exhibition’s at major American institutions such as the The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), The Studio Museum in Harlem, and MCA Chicago.
With works on offer at each of the three houses, Johnson’s market this March is competitive. At Sotheby’s, his monochrome black painting TO THE LEFT (2012) is being offered at an estimate of $60,000-80,000. Johnson’s neutral monochromes have accomplished stunning results in the secondary market in recent years. Last year, in Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening sale, Johnson’s untitled mixed media painting set his current record at $1.2M, achieving five times its low estimate of $200,000. His 2013 black panel made with soap, wax and tile UNTITLED ANXIOUS MEN sold in Sotheby’s 2019 Contemporary Day sale for $500,000 against an estimate of $200,000-300,000. Another black panel Her (2013), sold in the Christie’s New York Contemporary Art Afternoon sale in November 2019 for $100,000, surpassing its high estimate of $80,000.
In a current market that highly favors figuration and rich color, these results are striking for monochrome works heavy with cultural criticism. In recent years, the secondary market has seen high numbers for figurative painting by emerging artists. According to Artnet’s 2019 Intelligence Report, of the ten highest selling lots in the ultra-contemporary category in the secondary market, which feature works by artists such as Dana Schutz and Jonas Wood, none were stylistically abstract.
Nick Cave’s Hustle Coat (2017)
Among the other ultra-contemporary works on offer this season is Nick Cave’s Hustle Coat (2017), which is also being offered in Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated sale at an estimate of $40,000-60,000. The work marks Cave’s quintessential assemblage style and critical voice, enveloping a bronze cast adorned with metal and costume jewelry. Cave is an emerging artist represented by New York’s Jack Shainman Gallery, whose works have seen success in auction Day sales in the past several seasons. At Sotheby’s Contemporary Day sale in November 2019, Cave’s SOUNDSUIT (2007), an embroidered and beaded mannequin sculpture surpassed its high estimate of $80,000 and sold for more than twice its low estimate at $150,000. In the same season, in Christie’s Fall 2019 Postwar to Present sale, another of the artist’s Soundsuit works from 2011 sold for $106,250 with fees, beating its estimate of $50,000-70,000. Each of Cave’s works that have come up at auction since 2016 have met their pre-sale value range, and the larger scale costume sculptures have historically performed well above their high estimates at auction. Hustle Coat’s figurative influence and its novelty to the secondary market will likely be of value to the artist’s steadily increasing market in this mid-season moment.
In Art Market Monitor’s findings from the 2019 February Contemporary Mid-season sales, we reported the artists leading in market share were two contemporary black painters, Kerry James Marshall and Jack Whitten, who have each recently received critical attention amidst major museum features. Witten’s trove of private journals was also published in 2018 by Hauser and Wirth. Across the combined total sales held at Phillips, Sotheby’s and Christie’s, Whitten’s Special Checking and Kerry James Marshall’s Untitled (Painter) together achieved a $10M increase from $53M sold in 2018 to the $63M in 2019.
From year to year the core market sales have found challenge in maintaining consistent sourcing of works that have the potential to perform well in the Day and Evening sales. Last year’s Mid-season sales proved to be a substantial opportunity for emerging markets despite competition in both value and volume against the postwar mainstay artists.