Last year, global auction sales of paintings by artists under 40 rose to $259.5 million, a 177 percent increase from 2020, according to data from Artprice, a France-based auction analytics firm.
Eager to jump on this rapidly-changing bandwagon, Sotheby’s has devised a new format called “The Now” sales, focusing on works by today’s most coveted names. On paper, this offer of 23 lots was intended to be a prelude to the main sale of works by established contemporary artists, but with so much attention – and money – focused on younger names, this was for many the evening’s most important event.
Like hungry chicks in a nest, banks of Sotheby’s staff screamed telephone calls as Lot 1, the 2020 painting “Falling Woman,” by New York-based artist Anna Weyant, set the tone. Estimated at $150.00 to $200,000, it was sold to an online bidder for $1.6 million, breaking the artist’s $1.5 million record at Christie’s last week.
Female artists and artists of color continued to be the dominant forces in the market for works by younger contemporaries. Before the “The Now” sale, Sotheby’s proudly announced that one of the auctions featured more female performers than males for the first time.
Building on Simone Leigh’s representation of the United States at the Venice Biennale (where one of her sculptures also won a Golden Lion), Sotheby’s recorded the life-size mixed media female head “Birmingham” from 2012. This sparked a new nutritional frenzy of telephone competition, the hammer eventually fell to a record $2.2 million, 10 times the highest presale estimate.
Complex, layered paintings by Los Angeles-based Christina Quarles have impressed critics and visitors to the Biennale’s central exhibition. This acclaim seemed to boost her market, with the 2019 canvas “Night Fell Upon Us Up On Us” soaring to a record $4.5 million. The previous auction for her works had been $685,500.