Contemporary artists under 30



Every fortnight Artprice posts a new or updated ranking in its Alternate-Friday Top Series. The theme of today’s TOP article is the Top 10 auction results for artists under 30 in 2011.

Contemporary art accounted for 12% of the global fine art auction market in 2011 with revenue amounting to 1.2 billion dollars; but less than 1% of that sum was generated by the so-called ultra-Contemporary segment of young artists under 30. In 2010, Artprice took a look at (Artists under 30) this emerging and then affordable corner of the market. Since then the prices commanded by certain under-30 artists (some fresh out of school) have increased considerably.

Top 10 : the Top 10 auction results for artists under 30 in 2011

Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Jacob KASSAY $240000 Untitled (2009) 05/12/2011 (Phillips de Pury & Company NY)
2 Jacob KASSAY $210964 Untitled (2010) 10/12/2011 (Phillips de Pury & Company LONDON)
3 Jacob KASSAY $191568 Untitled (2009) 06/27/2011 (Phillips de Pury & Company LONDON)
4 Jacob KASSAY $188040 Untitled (2009) 10/13/2011 (Sotheby’s LONDON)
5 Jacob KASSAY $170000 Untitled (2010) 11/07/2011 (Phillips de Pury & Company NY)
6 Jacob KASSAY $150000 Untitled (2009) 11/09/2011 (Christie’s NEW YORK NY)
7 Flore SIGRIST $97495 Dyptique (2010) 10/11/2011 (Artcurial (S.V.V.) PARIS)
8 KAO Yu $96348 Five hundred years of solitude (2006) 07/16/2011 (Xiling Yinshe Auction HANGZHOU)
9 Jacob KASSAY $85000 Untitled (2010) 11/08/2011 (Phillips de Pury & Company NY)
10 LI Qing $80340 Find Discrepancies No.9 (2005) 06/02/2011 (Poly International Auction Co.,Ltd)

Jacob Kassay – The star of the under 30s

Of the 10 best results in this week’s under-30s ranking, seven were generated by an artist who had no auction history until end-2010: Jacob KASSAY.
The rise of Jacob Kassay has been dazzling: having graduated from Buffalo State University in 2005, he was signed by the Eleven Rivington Gallery in 2008, and had a solo show in 2009 where, apparently, all the works were sold before it opened. One of these works – Untitled (2009) – found its way into the Phillip’s de Pury & Co showroom in November of the following year carrying an already optimistic estimate of $6,000 – $8,000 (more than double the price paid a few months earlier to the gallery) where it fetched no less than $70,000 generating the best-ever auction debut price for a Contemporary artist and the best result for an under-30 artist in the United States in 2010… On the strength of this single result, Kassay was suddenly the object of abundant praise and all the eyes of the art market quickly focused on its latest prodigy.
Following that result, a number of fanciful rumours began to circulate including one whereby the PACE Gallery deliberately forced the price up so that they could enlist the artist.In 2011, his price index remained buoyant: out of the 12 works presented at auction, 11 fetched more than their high estimates.
In May 2011, another Untitled (2009) quadrupled its low estimate at $240,000 when presented in a Phillip’s de Pury & Co. evening sale alongside a Warhol Liz and a Prince Nurse. The piece, direct from the artist’s studio, was emblematic of his work. Inspired by the work of Ryman and Soulages, Kassay – using a complex technique – gives life to irregular paintings that mostly look like opaque mirrors.
Several days later, this time in London, but still at Phillip’s De Pury & Co, another work Untitled (2009) was acquired for $191,568. Jacob Kassay’s six best auction results have been generated by paintings measuring 122 x 94 cm created between 2009 and 2010: They combine paint with silver gelatine to create an entirely new and unique texture. Several months later, again in London, a similar work fetched $210,694, again tripling its high estimate! The work, Untitled (2010), was created only one year before its auction sale!
At the end of October and the beginning of November, Christie’s and Phillip’s managed to sell three works by the artist in London and New York for more than $150,000 each. (Untitled (2009), Untitled (2010) and Untitled (2009)). Despite increasingly high estimates (some up to $150,000), the artist’s works have not suffered any price reversal, and none of his works have fetched less than $24,000 over the last 10 months. Even the small formats (35 x 25cm) sell for between $30,000 and $80,000. This was notably the case for the artist’s 7th best result in this ranking (9th result in 2011 for an under-30 artist): the work, consisting of two small formats measuring 33 x 22.5 cm – Untitled (2010) – fetched $85,000 in New York.
Before he was 27, Kassay had already seen his works presented alongside Prince and Basquiat, and exposed at the Gagosian (next to Andy Warhol), the Gwangju Biennial in South Korea and Art Basel. The challenge for this young American will no doubt be to maintain his prices. Art market history has seen plenty of cases of plummeting falls after dizzy ascensions; for example several lots (8 to be precise) after Kassay’s Untitled 2009 generated his auction record in May 2011, another artist failed to attract a single bid: Damien Hirst!

Two Chinese artists and one French artist are the only others in this Top 10.
Flore SIGRIST was only seven when she started to paint and only a few years older when she began to attract the attention of numerous collectors. This young Swiss-French artist was not supported by major galleries when she made her auction debut in 2011… right in at the top. Two works were presented last year, and Dyptique (2010) fetched $97,945 taking 7th place in this ranking. Her work, which has been referred to as “abstract impressionism”, creates a particular poetic aesthetic with a whirly mix of shapes and colours. Hats off to Artcurial for their excellent marketing of the two pieces which sold on 11 October 2011 in Paris. It would seem that Alain Renner’s highly complimentary comments about the paintings and about the interest in Sigrist’s works from American, Russian, Chinese and European collectors (Renner is the auctioneer at rival Sotheby’s) sharpened the appetites of the French collectors who paid a total of $160,000 for the two works. The Chinese artists KAO Yu and LI Qing had already posted exceptional performances in 2010 with respectively $800,000 and $209,000 in auction sales revenue. In 2011, Gao Yu’s revenue dropped by half (to $477,000) and Li Qing’s rose to $269,000. But both artists generated some excellent results in 2011 including two ranked 8th and 10th in this under-30s ranking.
Gao Yu hit the art market aged just 22 replicating a model already tested by his predecessors (including Andy Warhol) by focusing primarily on relations between art and advertising (in 2010 he created a bottle for the Absolut brand of vodka, which 25 years earlier had offered the same job to another artist: Andy Warhol!). His work Five hundred years of solitude (2006) generated the 8th best result in our under-30s 2011 ranking when it fetched $96,348, continuing a very high-end market for the artist (75% of his works have sold for above $20,000 since 2009) that started in 2010 with two results above $130,000.
Fresh out of school, Li Qing was awarded a solo show at the F2 Gallery in Beijing in 2006, and generated his first auction result in 2008. The artist’s most well-known work is undoubtedly his series The Differences consisting of identical paintings side by side (with some deliberate differences). The works prompt the spectator to engage in the ludic game of examining and comparing the two paintings. It therefore comes as no surprise to find a work from this series generating his best result for 2011, taking 10th place in our ranking: Find Discrepancies No.9 (2005) fetched $80,340 in Beijing on 2 June.

Whereas most artists under 30 are busy trying to get their first exhibitions, the problem for these ultra-Contemporary market stars is how to maintain their prices. This can be a very difficult task especially in the current state of the art market, which is just as extravagant at auction as it is amnesiac. Of the eight artists present in our Under-30s ranking in the first half of 2010 (Artists under 30), only one managed to generate a better result in 2011.