With the pandemic-induced upheaval of 2020 and 2021, the art world had high hopes that 2022 would be the time for the market to rebound. In some ways, that’s what we got.
After postponements during the pandemic, several major collections went to auction: in particular, the sale of the Paul G. Allen collection in November broke all records, with five of his top works sold for more than 100 million dollars each. Among other jaw-dropping sales records this year, it was a signal that buyers at the top end of the market, at least, are still excited, even as inflation rises and the world braces for a recession.
This month, I’ve rounded up some of the trends that have shaped the art market in 2022. In most of these categories, there are constants: works by women artists and African artists, for example , are selling at higher prices, signaling the continuation of trends that have been rising in recent years.
NFTs go up and down
At the start of 2022, NFTs seemed poised to take over the world. In March, Bored Ape Yacht Club founders Yuga Labs acquired CryptoPunks and Meebits, creating an NFT juggernaut, while many NFT artists have used the proceeds of their work to benefit war efforts in Ukraine. Decentralized crowdfunding of works of art has taken off: in February, Pak’s The clock sold to an organized group of collectors through a DAO, for a record $53 million in Ethereum (the proceeds went to benefit Julian Assange’s legal fund).
During this time, many galleries have moved to cater to this new segment of collectors. With crypto wallets overflowing, the question was how to engage collectors with the rest of the art market, especially after tech billionaire Justin Sun’s purchase of Alberto Giacometti. The Nose (designed 1947/49; sunk 1965) at Sotheby’s for $78.4 million in late 2021.
Yet in May, much of the brilliance of blockchain-based works was depleted by the huge drop in cryptocurrency prices, which only worsened as the year progressed, in part because of the implosion of the FTX cryptocurrency exchange. While there is much talk of “crypto contagion”, the art world continues to find ways to work with NFTs.
Christie’s, for example, announced its sparkling new platform, Christie’s 3.0, to coincide with Miami Art Week (the event that, in 2021, was buzzing with new crypto-rich collectors). In 2023, it’s hard to see crypto being as hyped as it was in 2021, but without the skyrocketing prices and buzz, who knows what the next phase of NFT art might look like?
Collecting with a purpose
Salman Toor, 4 guests2019. Courtesy of the artist and Christie’s Images Limited.
Representing four figures shot on a background of his signature pea green, Salman Toor’s 4 guests (2019) was one of the most notable lots in Christie’s 21st Century Evening Sale which took place on 17 November. At $856,800, it cost nearly four times its estimate, which is easy to applaud, since the work was donated by Toor to benefit a charity working with emergency flood relief efforts. in Pakistan. It was not the only such sale this year. The previous month, Stanley Whitney and Gagosian sold one of the artist’s signature abstract paintings through Artsy Auctions in support of the Art for Justice Fund and Planned Parenthood of Greater New York.
In February and March, art institutions, artists and auction houses moved quickly to support Ukraine, acknowledging the severity of the crisis. Although these commitments to a larger goal still represent only a fraction of the economic activity of the art market, the speed and force with which actors in the art world have acted have indicated a commitment to concretely recognize issues that are important to their audience.
After all, these auctions coincide with a growing number of collectors who are focusing their purchases on marginalized communities, such as BIPOC, women or LGBTQ+ artists. More and more collectors are also prioritizing sustainability when purchasing artwork. According to Art Basel and UBS’s “The Art Market 2022” report, a majority of collectors said they focused on reducing their carbon footprint by traveling to fewer fairs and opting for shipping methods. more durable. The art world is slow to change, but it’s refreshing to see more conversations about how art impacts the world around it.
Was it a pandemic-induced need to review people, things, and environments? Or were portraits simply fashionable? Either way, in 2021, extras were everywhere. Recognizable faces, objects and scenes have appeared on art fair booths, online gallery showrooms and auction catalogs. This year, however, the tide seems to be turning.
At Gagosian’s Frieze London stand, for example, works by abstract painter Jadé Fadojutimi, each priced at £500,000 ($614,000), sold out before the fair even opened. And at a Phillips sale in Hong Kong in early December, Lucy Bull set a new record for her Asian auction debut: her work 8:50 am (2020) sold for HK$11.4 million (US$1.5 million).
It’s not just young artists. This year also saw critically acclaimed exhibitions for Bernice Bing, an under-recognized abstract expressionist artist; and James Little, who is becoming increasingly known for his monochromatic geometric shapes. It seems, even in times of uncertainty, some trend cycles will always run back and forth.
Young artists reach new heights
Earlier this year, rococo-influenced painter Flora Yukhnovich, born in 1990 and portrayed by Victoria Miro since 2021, set a gargantuan new sales record: $3.1 million at auction. Never has it been clearer that the ultra-contemporary market is booming.
At auction, young artists reach unprecedented prices at the beginning of the century, and with surprising frequency. Sotheby’s launched a new marquee sale in New York in November 2021 dubbed “The Now”, the first evening sale dedicated solely to this category. Earlier this year, an Artprice survey focusing on auction results for works by artists under 40 showed that the ultra-contemporary art market generated $420 million between July 2021 and June. 2022, an increase of 28% compared to the previous year. This is due to both the value and volume of these works at auction increasing in 2022.
On the buyer side, meanwhile, there seems to be no limit to the amounts avid collectors will pay, with gallery waiting lists seemingly filling up in the hundreds. This is why, even with soaring prices, works by young artists are also competitive. The sales rate of ultra-contemporary works of art at auction is around or even higher than the rest of the market.
Even though auction houses are where this trend is most visible, it seems to have affected almost every aspect of the art world, with blue chip galleries also leaning into the frenzy. White Cube, for example, began representing Danica Lundy (b. 1991), Louise Giovanelli (b. 1993), Ilana Savdie and Marguerite Humeau (both born in 1986) this year. Gagosian, meanwhile, picked up painters Jadé Fadojutimi (b. 1993) and Anna Weyant (b. 1995); the price spike of the latter artist in particular caused a stir.
Although “Surrealism Beyond Borders” opened late last year at the Met, its impact has echoed throughout this year as the international cross-generational exhibition has moved to the Tate Modern, offering a reconsideration of the movement and its lesser-known proponents. By the time the Venice Biennale opened in April, the frenzy for surrealist and contemporary surrealist works had reached new heights.
In Venice, the exhibition “The Milk of Dreams” by curator Cecilia Alemani highlighted the unconscious, the mythical and the spectral through a list led by surrealist women such as Jane Graverol, Unica Zürn and Alice Rahon, in alongside contemporary artists like Dora Budor, Marianna Simnett and Raphaela Vogel, who explore these themes in new ways.
None of this went through the auction houses: Sotheby’s and Christie’s presented sales (much more masculine than the Venice fair) organized around the movement. While sales of works by surrealist women like Dorothea Tanning and Leonora Carrington continue to exceed estimates, especially small works and prints, these dream-influenced artists are still proving popular with collectors.
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