Art Market

These 10 Artists Broke into the Art Market Big Leagues in 2018

Nate Freeman
Dec 21, 2018 6:51PM

While the art market in 2018 had its fair share of sales in the eight- and even nine-figures, some of the most intriguing results from this year lay much further down the list of the year’s most expensive works. The 10 artists listed below racked up some of those results. Some had their first solo shows at blue-chip galleries; others made the jump from day sales to the coveted evening sale slot; others still turned heads at art fairs and came close to, or eclipsed, that magical threshold for a single work: $1 million. For all, 2018 will be remembered as the year they solidified their place among the art market’s greats.

In 2000, Henry Taylor walked into artist/dealer Joel Mesler’s Los Angeles space with a J.C. Penney bag full of paintings he made on cigarette boxes. Mesler paid $100 for four of them, and Taylor later gave him back $20—the price, Taylor insisted, was just $80. Cut to the present: Taylor, 60, now repped by L.A.-based powerhouse Blum & Poe, had his breakthrough moment at auction this November, when a painting estimated to sell for $200,000 at Sotheby’s attracted a flood of bidding in the salesroom and on the phones before hammering at $800,000, or $975,000 with fees—a record for the artist.

Works by many black artists have seen surging interest in 2018, but the sky-high price for Taylor’s is just as indicative of the amount of demand that has accumulated for his searing paintings. The lush but raw portraits burn with the politics of the everyday, and also address social issues head-on: Look no further than his painting of the fatal police shooting of Philando Castile, first shown at the 2017 Whitney Biennial. When Taylor had a solo show at MoMA PS1 in 2012, his works were selling for $65,000, and by May 2016, he was commanding $149,000 at auction. After breaking records nearly every season since, Taylor just missed the $1 million threshold in November. I would not expect that record to hold for long.

Avery Singer, FELLOW TRAVELERS, FLAMING CREATURES, 2013. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.


This May, 31-year-old artist Avery Singer, who creates striking, mostly black-and-white, acrylic paintings that she makes by marking over 3D computer models, had an auspicious evening sale debut at Sotheby’s New York. Singer’s Fellow Travelers, Flaming Creatures (2013) was slotted as the sale’s sixth lot and carried an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000—an ambitious mark given the fact that her only appearance at auction came the previous October, when a painting sold for £27,500 ($36,221) during the Sotheby’s day sale.

But as bidding began on Fellow Travelers, Flaming Creatures, it rode a tidal wave of interest to shoot past the work’s high estimate, and eventually sparked war between Thor Shannon—a director at Singer’s New York gallery, Gavin Brown’s Enterprise—and eminent dealer Larry Gagosian, who won the work for a $600,000 hammer, or $735,000 with fees. The painting was originally sold in 2013 from a summer show at New York’s Greene Naftali Gallery for just $20,000, making for a 2,900% increase in value in just five years.

It was clear from the start that 2018 would be the year of KAWS. In late 2017, his longtime backer Emmanuel Perrotin announced that he would host KAWS shows at his gallery’s spaces in both Tokyo and Hong Kong, a major Asian push for the 44-year-old former graffiti artist Brian Donnelly, who makes Day-Glo cartoon-skewing paintings and sculptures. In late February, powerful secondary market dealer Per Skarstedt bet big on KAWS by signing Donnelly on for representation, and then saw the risk pay off as the market momentum of previous seasons continued with the March sales in London. At the Phillips day sale, two KAWS works exceeded their high estimates, one bringing £909,000 ($1.2 million), a record for the artist.

That record was broken two more times in 2018. First, in October, a painting of cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants sold at Sotheby’s for a £850,000 hammer, or £1 million ($1.3 million) with fees, a total more than three times the work’s high estimate of £250,000. Then in November, at Phillips New York, Untitled (Fatal Group) (2004) sold to the bidder on the phone with Kevie Yang, a senior specialist with a focus on Asia, for $2.9 million, or $3.5 million with the buyer’s premium. In total, five KAWS works sold for more than $1 million at auction in 2018, and the frenzy continued in December at Art Basel in Miami Beach, where, in collaboration with Pace Prints, KAWS was on hand for the release of a limited quantity of his new silkscreen prints. As a melee erupted around him, the artist was unfazed about the Phillips sale: “I still showed up at my studio at 9 a.m. the following day,” he said.

Sotheby’s London contemporary evening sale in October kicked off with Kai Althoff’s Er Will Alles Sehen (2002), from the stellar collection of David Teiger. It was the first lot of the night, and bidding exploded, not dying down until it drove the work past its high estimate of £120,000 and onto a final total of £574,000 with fees—a record for the 52-year-old artist. But the real fireworks came less than 24 hours later, with the day sale appearance of Althoff’s Antonius Eremita, also dated 2002 and from the Teiger collection. Perhaps a few collectors had noticed that after the previous night’s result, the high estimate of £70,000 for Antonius Eremita seemed a little low. A host of bidding ensued, taking the price up to £682,000, almost 10 times the high estimate, and good enough to set a second record in as many days.

A few weeks later, the artist made news in New York with the opening of a show of new works at Tramps, a buzzy downtown gallery operating in a Chinatown mall under the Manhattan Bridge. As subways rumbled overhead, gallery-goers ducked in and out of glass-enclosed vending stalls to view Althoff’s intimate, gold-flecked paintings. The gallery declined to give prices for the works—which have elicited a strong critical response, as well as a full-throated defense from Tramps proprietor Parinaz Mogadassi—but the chatter among multiple dealers at Art Basel in Miami Beach indicated that similar paintings by Althoff are going for $600,000 on the secondary market.

There was no doubt that once the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., announced in October 2017 that Amy Sherald had been commissioned to paint the official presidential portrait of former first lady Michelle Obama, interest in her work would go up. It did, and prices followed. Sherald didn’t have the same name recognition of Kehinde Wiley, the artist chosen to paint the companion portrait of Barack Obama, but Baltimore-based Sherald had, for years, been working steadily on her signature grisaille style of portraits, where figures are darkly outlined over soft, lush colors. Sherald is known to create very few works each year. And Chicago dealer Monique Meloche, who began working with Sherald in 2015, said that before the announcement, she would typically sell work for prices between $8,500 and $25,000, and received inquiries from a small but devoted group of collectors. That changed quickly.

Once the announcement was made, Meloche said she started getting 12 requests for Sherald’s work per day, and after the portrait was unveiled in February, that number went up to 50 per day. In March, global mega-gallery Hauser & Wirth announced that Sherald had joined its roster. The gallery brought one of her works to Art Basel in Miami Beach, where it was among the more Instagrammed paintings of the entire fair, and ended up selling for $175,000. So far, Sherald’s work has not been offered at auction, but in 2019, you might expect a persuasive auction house specialist to at least try to convince one of the lucky collectors who bought a Sherald from Meloche to part ways with it.

On October 7th, then–Christie’s post-war and contemporary chairman Loïc Gouzer took to Instagram to post a picture of a work by the late African-American artist Robert Colescott hanging at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Gouzer captioned it with an appeal to potential consignors: “if you have a great one DM me asap and if its [sic] good enough we will put it in the evening sale.” Gouzer had been waiting to see the results of Down in the Dumps: So Long Sweetheart, a 1989 Colescott painting that was set to sell on October 4th at Swann Auction Galleries in New York with a high estimate of $50,000. When the work ended up selling for a crazy-high $329,000, Gouzer’s search for a Colescott intensified.

By October 26th, he had secured a 1987 painting called Cultural Exchange for Christie’s November 15th contemporary art evening sale, where it sold for $912,500, more than double its high estimate. Sources at Christie’s say Colescott collectors are so loyal that they rarely part with works, but perhaps a surge in the artist’s market could make them reconsider, setting up the artist up for another big year in 2019.

It wasn’t long after the opening of the 2017 Whitney Biennial that protests erupted at the New York museum over a painting depicting black lynching victim Emmett Till in his coffin by Dana Schutz, who is white. Activist Hannah Black wrote an open letter advocating for the work’s destruction. Artists, critics, and public intellectuals were all obliged to take a side. The Whitney stood by the work, keeping it on view for the remainder of the exhibition. The brouhaha died down, but Open Casket (2016) remains one of the defining skirmishes in the current culture wars. The episode may also have a lasting impact on Schutz’s market: While the artist has stated that Open Casket will never be sold, collectors in 2018 were eager to snap up available works by the maker of the decade’s most controversial painting.

In London at Christie’s “Post-War to Present” day sale, Schutz’s Shaving (2010) sold for £260,750 ($343,538) over a £180,000 ($237,150) high estimate. And then in November, a 2003 work entitled Her Arms kicked off a sale of works from the David Teiger collection at Sotheby’s. Estimated to sell for $200,000, the painting was chased by nine bidders before it hammered at $650,000, or $795,000 with buyer’s premium. The momentum is set to continue when Petzel Gallery opens Schutz’s first solo show in New York since the Open Casket controversy. The exhibition, which the artist has titled “Imagine Me and You,” opens in January.

Shara Hughes also saw her 2017 appearance in the Whitney Biennial boost her market in 2018, breaking her auction record this year and consistently seeing works achieve totals that were nearly five times their high estimates. Before May 2017—the first auction cycle following the opening of the biennial in March—Hughes’s auction high was just $8,789. But in October, her Into the Mystic (2017), offered in Christie’s London post-war and contemporary day sale with a high estimate of £25,000 ($32,457), was bid up to £118,750 ($154,174). A month later, at a Christie’s New York afternoon sale, a Hughes painting with a high estimate of $20,000 ended up selling for $137,500. And over the summer of 2018, Hughes stood out in three group shows open simultaneously across the city at Kasmin, Almine Rech, and Peter Freeman.

The market for works by Belgian painter Harold Ancart has long been simmering. He was the first artist represented by Brooklyn- and Brussels-based Clearing, Olivier Babin’s influential Bushwick gallery, and soon caught the eye of dealers such as David Kordansky in Los Angeles and Xavier Hufkens in Brussels. By the summer of 2014, Ancart’s works were going for $60,000 to $80,000 on the secondary market, and by that fall, the long waiting list for new paintings caused his secondary market prices to jump to $150,000.

One of those coveted 2014 works was consigned to Christie’s November 2016 post-war and contemporary art afternoon sale, where bidding quickly went past the $120,000 high estimate to a final price of $751,500. In 2018, Ancart made a leap forward in the gallery sector when he was picked up by David Zwirner. In August, the gallery opened a show of a new body of Ancart’s iceberg paintings in London and also took works to international fairs, including FIAC in Paris, ART021 in Shanghai, and Art Basel in Miami Beach.

By the end of 2017, the cry for Jennifer Guidi paintings had hit a fever pitch among collectors, and the dealer Stefan Simchowitz wrote on Facebook: “If another person asks me to get them a Jen Guidi I think I might just vomit in my bed.” So in-demand were her works that when Untitled (Red Sand SF #1E, Yellow Ground) (2016) was consigned to Sotheby’s this spring, market insiders took notice. Some were aghast that the speculating collector would brazenly cash in so early. “To the person who is flipping this work way too early at auction, your loss!” wrote New York dealer Brett Gorvy on Instagram. But it sold for £274,000 over a high estimate of £200,000 at the Sotheby’s post-war and contemporary sale in London in June.

That price was exceeded by another work at the (RED) auction in December 2018 during Art Basel in Miami Beach, presented by Sotheby’s and Gagosian. A Guidi sand painting sold for a $300,000 hammer, or $375,000 with fees, during a sale that was preceded by one of the organizers, artist Theaster Gates, calling out “all of you collectors who come to pilfer and then flip.”

Nate Freeman