Top ten first sales by living artists



Friday is Top day! Every other Friday, Artprice publishes a theme-based auction ranking. This week: the top ten first sales by living artists in 2013.

Top ten first sales by living artists
Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Wallace CHAN $799,800 Insight Series – Baby’s Perspective (2013) 16/11/2013, Sotheby’s Hong Kong
2 Mark RYDEN $680,000 Queen Bee (2013) 13/05/2013 , Christie’s New York
3 LI Ruixiang $511,990 Ladies (2006) 23/06/2013, Macauchung Shuninternational Auctions Co., Ltd. , Macao
4 ZHU Wei $352,880 Men and women (2008) 24/04/2013, Shandong Chunqiu International, Shandong
5 Oscar MURILLO $330,000 Untitled (Drawings off the wall) (2011) 19/09/2013 , Phillips New York
6 QIU Guangping $323,800 Struggle (2008) 02/06/2013, Poly International Pékin
7 Lucien SMITH $320,000 Hobbes, The Rain Man, and My Friend Barney / Under the Sycamore Tree (2011) 11/11/2013, Phillips New York
8 RAO Xiaoqing $274,890 Famiie rose figures fishing 22/06/2013, Sungari Pékin
9 LI Zenghui $212,290 Years (2012) 02/12/2013, Poly International Pékin
10 MI Qiaoming $195,960 Queen Bee (2013) 13/05/2013, Christie’s , New York


An artist’s first sale at auction is an important step that confirms their value on the secondary market. Since the start of the new millennium the art world has been getting considerably younger, largely because of the increasing popularity of contemporary art. And alongside this rejuvenation it has also been enjoying robust financial health in terms of new artists on the auction market. This week, Artprice has selected the top ten first sales achieved by living artists. The results are impressive. The number one on our list, Wallace Chan, came close to $800,000 when he arrived on the secondary market, and three artists in their twenties have already attracted six-figure sums.

China on top
It’s a sign of the times that 7 of the top 10 best first sales have been notched up by Chinese artists! The Chinese market is more impetuous, more high-end and more open to speculation. As soon as artists appear in the sales rooms, they are launched like shooting stars onto the secondary market. Top of the list is Chan Wallace (born 1956), a special case because his sculptures really are treasures that are made with precious materials. The artist made his name as a jewellery designer and his first record sale in the region of $800,000 was for a sculpture that included sapphires and rubies. The work of his six compatriots is more anchored in the fine arts field but still displays some wide variations.

Works by Li Ruixiang (born 1941) were sold at four auctions in Macao in 2013, and he has broken the $100,000 barrier four times, setting a record equivalent to $511,990 for Ladies, which depicts two ladies in a lascivious pose. His recipe for success is based on a realistic, tantalising style of painting that seduces Asian collectors but attracts zero attention in the West. The works of Zhu Wei (born 1958) are more widespread in Asia because the artist is represented by several galleries. He likes to work in large formats, with his oils on canvas now selling for between $100,000 and $350,000 after two sales in Shandong and Beijing in 2013. Li Zenghui (born 1957) has attracted his share of followers with his 3D paintings that play tricks on the human eye. Supported by Poly International in Beijing, his two hammer prices have both broken through the six-figure barrier. In contrast, the success of Rao Xiaoqing (born 1961) is not based on modern 3D effects but rather on a return to tradition in terms of both subject and technique. The artist’s record of $274,890 was set with a painting on porcelain entitled Famiie rose figures fishing. The two youngest Chinese artists in this ranking, Qiu Guangping (born 1975) and Mi Qiaoming (born 1986) are already stars in their home country. Qiu Guangping sold for the equivalent of $323,800 shortly before the opening of his solo exhibition at Guangdong Museum of Art (September-December 2013). As for 27-year-old Mi, she is the first young Chinese artist to come close to $200,000 for the sale of an oil on canvas from 2011 entitled Beijing Opera Figures. She began studying art at the age of six, and by 2000 these studies had taken her to Russia. In 2010 she painted a portrait of Pope Benedict XVI, which is now part of the Vatican Museum’s collection. Something of a media darling, her youth is proving to be an added attraction for Chinese buyers.

Three Americans to watch
His work is better-known than his name: Mark Ryden (born 1963) came to public attention thanks to his album cover designs, including Michael Jackson’s Dangerous (1991), The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ One Hot minute (1995) and book covers such as Stephen King’s Desolation. However, Ryden is also a leading light in the booming « pop surrealism » movement. He has had numerous exhibitions and experts in the genre have long been anticipating good prices on the secondary market. Their patience finally paid off in May 2013 when Christie’s sold Queen Bee, an oil on canvas with an estimate of $300,000-$400,000 for $680,000.

The two other American artists in our Top Ten have made a sparkling debut in the sales rooms in light of their extreme youth. Oscar Murillo (born 1986) burst onto the scene with simultaneous sales at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips. In 2013 it was impossible to escape the young artist at London and New York sales. 25 works came up for auction and all of them found buyers, with 19 breaking the $100,000 barrier and doubling, tripling or even quadrupling their estimates. One of these, Untitled (Drawings off the wall), even sold for eleven times its low estimate, achieving a record hammer price of $330,000. This record was set in September 2013, when the prestigious David Zwirner Gallery officially announced that it would be representing the artist and began preparations for his solo exhibition to be held in New York in April 2014. In light of the sales results achieved in 2013, it is clear that demand for Oscar Murillo is already strong and he no doubt has more surprises in store in the sale rooms. An even younger artist is Lucien Smith (born 1989). He is one of an emerging generation of young Americans who are expanding their frames of reference and systematically creating a blurring of styles. This phenomenon is already well established in the market and there is strong demand for this kind of work. As a result, at just 24 years of age, the artist has already attracted bids up to $320,000 at auction – a hundred times more than the best achieved by Jean-Michel BASQUIAT when he first entered the market at around the same age. The art market has changed drastically and speculation is still strong for young artists from the two nations that are currently leading the way – the USA and China.