American artists under 40 (June 2011 – May 2012)



Friday is Top day! Every alternate Friday, Artprice posts a theme-based auction ranking. This week’s topic is the Top 10 results for American artists under 40 in 2011.

The history of American art began with the desire to break out of the European mould and to assert its autonomy from the model that Europe imposed. Alfred STIEGLITZ’s Photo Secession group in 1902, the fanfare surrounding the Armory Show in 1913 (the first international exhibition of Modern art) or the arrival, during the Second World War, of artists fleeing Nazism and the war in Europe are all events that sowed the seeds of a new culture. Thus, during the second half of the 20th century, American art liberated itself from any inferiority complexes compared with Europe, while Paris simultaneously lost its supremacy to New York. Abstract Expressionism through Pop Art, Minimalism and Conceptual Art: Willem DE KOONING, Jackson POLLOCK, Mark ROTHKO, Robert MORRIS, Andy WARHOL, Jean-Michel BASQUIAT … the American avant-garde was a giant wave. The art market, hungrily consuming works from this period, is still attributing new auction records to the likes of Warhol whose (Green Car Crash (Green Burning Car I) generated his best result at $64m at Christie’s New York on May 16, 2007), and de Kooning whose Untitled XXV fetched $24.2m at Christie’s New York on November 15, 2006.
In a market in crisis and with the arrival of China in first place on the global art market, we take a look at young American artists who are picking up the “Made in the U.S.A.” mantle.


Top 10 : Top 10 results for American artists under 40 (June 2011 – May 2012)

Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Matthew Day JACKSON $430920 Tennanaut II (2008) 06/28/2011 (Christie’s LONDON)
2 Dana SCHUTZ $400000 “Death Comes to Us All” (2003) 05/10/2012 (Phillips de Pury & Company NEW YORK NY)
3 Sterling RUBY $270000 “SP40” (2008) 11/07/2011 (Phillips de Pury & Company NEW YORK NY)
4 Nate LOWMAN $240000 This Marilyn (2011) 11/07/2011 (Phillips de Pury & Company NEW YORK NY)
5 Barnaby FURNAS $235980 “Duel (July 4th)” (2004) 10/14/2011 (Christie’s LONDON)
6 Matthew Day JACKSON $235724 Study Collection V (2010) 02/15/2012 (Christie’s LONDON)
7 Barnaby FURNAS $218778 Flood (Red Sea) (2006) 10/12/2011 (Phillips de Pury & Company LONDON)
8 Jacob KASSAY $210964 Untitled (2010) 10/12/2011 (Phillips de Pury & Company LONDON)
9 Jacob KASSAY $191568 Untitled (2009) 06/27/2011 (Phillips de Pury & Company LONDON)
10 Jacob KASSAY $188040 Untitled (2009) 10/13/2011 (Sotheby’s LONDON)

The Top 10 contains 6 artists, most of whom were born in the 1970s and are aged between 33 and 40, although at 28, Jacob KASSAY could become the figurehead of promising new generation with three works in this Top. The most expensive work in this ranking fetched $430,000, which proves that young American signatures are doing well, especially since four of them signed new records in 2011 (Dana SCHUTZ, Sterling RUBY, Nate LOWMAN, Jacob KASSAY). All of the results in this ranking were hammered in London (7) and New York (3), once again proving the “complementarity” that exists between the two markets.

First shown to the public in 2005 during the exhibition Greater New York Show at PS1 Contemporary Art Center (an annexe of Moma in New York), the works of Matthew Day JACKSON (born 1974) hit the auction market in 2006 and already fetched above their high estimates: a print of a photograph Hungry Ghosts from the civil War Battlefield (estimated 3 000 – $ 4000) fetched $4,500 at Phillips de Pury & Company, New York, on March 13 of that year). In four years, his results posted a phenomenal increase. His auction record went from $7,400 for an oil painting entitled Alamo (121.9 x 242.5 cm) at Christie’s London on December 11, 2008 to $783,000 for another oil painting entitled Bucky (241 x 180 cm) at Christie’s London on February11, 2010. In other words, his auction record was multiplied by 100 times in just 14 months! Moreover, the latter result was completely unexpected, since Christie’s had attributed an estimate of £30,000 – 40,000 to the work. Such a speculative momentum could reasonably prompt doubts about the sustainability of such price levels; however, the artist has continued to sign good results as evidenced by his positions in 1st and 6th place in this Top. On June 28, 2011, his Tennataut II, a work made in his most sough-after style – a kind of contemporary marquetry with inlays of marble, metal and wood, or stone on wood or Formica panels – found a buyer at $430,000, the artist’s third best-ever result. Today widely held in some of the most important collections such as those of the Rubel Family (Miami), Franks-Suss (London, Sydney and Hong Kong), Rosenblum (Paris), and Zabludovitch (London) …, Matthew Day Jackson is perceived by some as one of the most talented representatives of the Contemporary American art market… and the market is reflecting back the same message.

The year 2012 started strongly for Dana SCHUTZ when on 10 May her Death Comes to Us All revised her 2007 record (Night in Day, fetched $240,000, Christie’s New York, May 10) by fetching $400,000. Representing a hybrid figure, man/machine in vibrant colours, Death Comes to Us All is not just a fanciful work. Dana Schutz considers her works as plausible realities where life and art converge. Between fantasy and reality, humour and horror, her works portray improbable situations straight out of her boundless imagination. Creator of a parallel world, Dana Schutz’s career has gained momentum over the past ten years. In 2003, during the Venice Biennale, she participated in the Clandestine exhibition curated by the renowned Francesco Bonami. As of 2004 she exhibited at influential galleries (Saatchi, Perrotin, etc.) and her career continued to accelerate. Then in 2005 she took part, as did Matthew Day Jackson, in the Greater New York (PS1 Contemporary Art Center) exhibition and signed a superb auction debut with a result of $80,000 for Project at Kensington (Christie’s New York, 9 November).

Another very popular American artist, Sterling RUBY, is in 3rd place in this Top with a result of $270,000 for her SP40 (Phillips de Pury & Company, New York, November 7, 2011) from her famous Spectrum Ripper series unveiled in 2008 during her first solo exhibition in London. SP40 therefore beat her former record of $260,000 for a similar work (SP 28) sold by Phillips de Pury & Company New York on May 15, 2008. In these monumental abstract spray paintings, Ruby Sterling focuses on the deconstruction of minimalist forms and, particularly, of the geometrical ideal of the grid. Stirling’s rise in the art market has been exceptionally meteoric: after an auction debut in 2007 below expectations ($4,800 versus an estimate of $6,000 – $8,000 for her Kin#1 at Christie’s New York, November 10) and a later exhibition at the Gagosian, Ruby Sterling shot straight to $260,000 in 2008.

Between graffiti collages, reclaiming objects and images, Nate LOWMAN is an artist who loves to play with the codes of consumption and everyday life. Brought up on Pop Art, the iconic blond Marilyn could not escape his attention and he joins this Top in 4th place with $240,000 for This Marilyn (Phillips de Pury & Company, New York, November 7, 2011). Indeed, 2011 was a promising year for Lowman after signing three results above his previous record of nearly $66,000 in 2010 (for Pink Climbing, Sotheby’s London on February 11). These results are not without reason since Nate Lowman can boast participation in exhibitions at major museums (the Whitney, the Guggenheim, Punta della Dogana / Palazzo Grassi, Palais de Tokyo, etc.) and his works have been integrated into some of the most influential collections (Rubell Family, Dakis Jouanou, etc.).

When viewers encounter the work of Barnaby FURNAS the image appears out of control. Spontaneity and experimentation are integral parts of his works that invariably depict chaotic and violent scenes. Nevertheless, he plans his compositions so that the surface of the canvas acts like a screen or a camera lense to record his splatters of blood. Recognisable thanks to the ubiquity of blood, Barnaby Furnas’s works tend to flirt with abstraction … or even marry it. Fetching nearly $236,000, his Duel (July 4th) is in 5th place in this Top. One could liken the work to a great firework display with bright bursts of colour covering the tranquillity of a big blue sky. However, the word carnage seems more appropriate. As the title tells us, this is a duel, and as we look more closely, the red spots do indeed look like dripping blood … The concept is similar to that used in Flood (Red Sea) (which earns him 7th place in this ranking) where we find – although within a different dynamic – the omnipresence of red (blood), once again engulfing and destroying the serene blue sky. This evocative work with its biblical title sold for nearly $219,000 (Phillips de Pury, London, 10 October 2011). Without competing with his personal record of 2006 ($450,000, Heartbreak Ridge (2002) Sotheby’s, New York 14 November), his paintings sold well at auctions during 2011, changing hands for between 177,000 and $236,000.

This is a high level of enthusiasm for the works of the youngest artist in this Top, Jacob Kassay (born 1984), with his three results above $180,000 taking 8th, 9th and 10th places. His auction history began in 2009 when Phillips de Pury & Company (New York) sold one of his monochromes estimated $6,000 – $8,000 for no less than $70,500, almost ten times its high estimate. Jacob Kassay uses a unique chemical and industrial process to create his silvered monochromes known as electro-galvanization. The process, which consists of depositing silver ions on the canvas using electrolysis, produces a reflective appearance similar to that of a mirror. With these imperfect mirrors, Jacob Kassay plays, literally and figuratively, with notions of opacity, reflection and transfer. The viewer becomes an actor in a sensory experience where his movements alter the surface appearance of the work, opening a window onto another world. With 19 auction records recorded since entering the secondary market in 2010, including 12 between $80,000 and $240,000, Jacob Kassay already has a strong foundation on the art market!

Despite recent market upheavals, American artists are still signing auction records, often linked to rocket-like ascensions. With global-reach art institutions and the support of influential collectors behind them, the United States continues to be a major breeding ground for bankable artists. Although the idea that a move to the United States represents a milestone in their career of a European artist may sound somewhat cliched, the sales results of the French artist, Jules de Balincourt, who lives in New York, are proof that this cliché has by no means lost its veracity.