Contemporary art – New arrivals to the world of public auctions



Every year, nearly 3,000 artists have their first work(s) sold at auction. This first sale is a significant step because for most people the prices they command represent a sort of benchmark which follows them throughout their career. Galleries find it less easy to support their favourite artists if the latter have not shown the capacity to generate sufficiently strong performances in the public auction arena. Likewise, a strong auction performance is an ideal trampoline for guaranteeing the success of future exhibitions on the primary market. So who got started in 2007? Artprice looks at the top 50 new entrants.

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In the broad spectrum of public sales, some auction arenas are clearly more favourable than others. As a starting point there is nothing like a place in one of the Contemporary Art catalogues of Sotheby’s, Christie’s or Phillips & De Pury. These prestigious houses, accustomed to selling the heavyweights of the art market like Jef Koons, Damien Hirst and Peter Doig, are the best guarantees of future success.
The perfect cocktail is when the artist is already well supported by several major galleries and already counts young collectors capable of putting in seven figure bids among his/her clientele! Today, buyers from Russia, China, India and the Middle East are clearly the biggest spenders when it comes to supporting their respective ‘national’ artists.
One such artist to have enjoyed this ideal scenario is the Russian Evgeny CHUBAROV. For his first time auction sale on 15 February 2007, all the conditions for success appear to have been in place. In 1999, a large scale painting (200 x 300 cm) he created in 1992 was bought from the Gary Tatintsian Gallery where it was hanging alongside works by Sol Lewitt. In 2004 it was exhibited at the Museum of Saint Petersbourg. In 2007 the work was sold at a much publicised sale of Russian Contemporary Art orchestrated by Sotheby’s in London where it featured in a specially drafted Russian language catalogue. Estimated at £40,000 – 60,000, the piece finally sold for £240,000 (€358,000). Six months later – building on this initial success – Phillips, de Pury & Company generated £600,000 for a similar work by Chubarov! These sales gave Chubarov the number one position among the 2007 new entrants.

Although the top fifty contains Iranians (Parviz Tanavoli, Sedaghat Jabbari, Gholamhossein Nami), an artist from UAE (Abdul Kadir Al-raes), a Lebanese artist (Chaouki Chamoun), a Syrian (Khaled Al-saai) and three Russians, the most fertile ground in the fast-growing emerging markets auction arena is unmistakably Chinese. Nearly 75% of the top 50 positions in the ranking are occupied by Chinese artists and no less than 58% of their sales was generated in Asia! In China the offer has adapted to demand with numerous Chinese auction houses now also capable of supporting contemporary local creativity. For example, the top Chinese artist in the ranking, SUN Lixin (1955) sold a work in May 2007 for 5.5 million yuan (€536,000 ) at Poly International Auction Co. in Peking. SHAO Yachuan (1958) was thrust into the limelight by Beijing Duo Yun Xuan Auctions with a work entitled Patrolling dike that generated 4.6 million yuan (€445,000 ) in July 2007.
Another surprise during 2007: only one American in the top 50 new entrants: Justin FAUNCE (1980) – the youngest in the ranking – sold a work at the Phillips, de Pury & Company (New York) for $130,000.
In this shortlist of rising stars who hit the ground running with exceptional prices at their first auction sale, there are two Frenchmen. Jules DE BALINCOURT, born in Paris in 1972 and working in Brooklyn, already exhibited at the Palais de Tokyo, at the PS1 and at the MoMA, made a strong debut to the auction world in May 2007 with a sale of $28,000 (Christie’s NY). Six months later he generated an exceptional bid of $220,000 at Phillips, de Pury & Company. Kader ATTIA has also made a remarkable entry to the auction scene. His installation Flying Rats, containing 150 live pigeons nibbling away at children’s sculptures made of foam and grain, generated considerable controversy when it was presented at the 2005 Lyon Biennial. Included in a selection from the Pierre Huber collection that was sold at Christie’s New York, it went under the hammer for $75,000 $ (€57,000) in February 2007.

China’s domination of the first-time price ranking has strongly inflated the top prices: the current price of an ‘entry ticket’ to the top fifty has been growing rapidly and currently stands at 50,000 euros! In 2000, before art market prices really began to take off and before Asia had achieved such a dominant position in the art market, the ‘entry ticket’ was just €12,000. Most of the artists introduced in 2007 have managed to confirm their initial high level entry prices at subsequent auctions. Maurizio CATTELAN generated $140,000 in his first auction sale with Spermini (Little Sperms). Since then several of his works have reached seven figures and his record currently stands at $2.7 million for La Nona Ora. In the lists of those artists who have kicked off their auction careers at several tens of thousands of dollars, many have since already reached beyond $100,000. Among them Shirin NESHAT who recently generated $265,000 (May 2008); Jim HODGES, whose spiders’ webs regularly sell for more than $300,000; some of YAN Pei-Ming‘s large Mao portraits sell for over a $ million, and 20 photos by Thomas DEMAND have sold for over $100,000.

Seven years ago, buying the big names in Contemporary Art offered good upside potential for investors. What fate awaits the rising stars of 2007 whose prices are on average 3 times higher than those who entered the market in 2000?