Art Market

These 7 Artists Had Breakout Moments at Auction in 2021

Justin Kamp
Dec 15, 2021 6:44PM

Following the pandemic-related disruptions of 2020, 2021 marked a synthesis of old art market norms and new COVID-19-era realities. In-person events and auctions returned, yet continue to coexist alongside the new digital selling environs. Banksy and Jean-Michel Basquiat predictably nabbed top-dollar results on the secondary market, but upstart digital artists reached equally lucrative heights as the desire for crypto-backed NFTs (non-fungible tokens) rose to a fever pitch. In this addled landscape between tradition and innovation, a host of young and veteran players found themselves with sold-out presentations and skyrocketing auction results. These are the artists who reached new levels of success in the art market this year.

Beeple, EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS, 2021. Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd.


If there’s one artist who best encapsulated the NFT feeding frenzy that shocked the art market this year, it’s Mike Winkelmann, better known as Beeple. At a Christie’s online auction this spring, EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS (2021), a digital composition made up of works from the artist’s 2007 “Everydays” series, went under the hammer with a starting bid of just $100. Over the following weeks, the work continued to accumulate bids, soaring to $9 million the day before the auction closed, before growing in massive leaps to an eventual hammer price of $69.34 million, a result that places Beeple firmly within the three most expensive living artists at auction, following David Hockney and Jeff Koons.

The astounding sale—which was the first NFT sold by a major auction house—marked a sea change in the viability of selling digital art at auction, and heralded a new era in the confluence of financial technology and art. As far as Beeple, the artist’s auction results returned to the realm of five to six figures following the earth-shattering “Everydays” sale, only to rocket back up into the millions again with the $28.99 million sale of HUMAN ONE (2021) at a Christie’s sale in November.

Jadé Fadojutimi, Myths of Pleasure, 2017. Courtesy of Phillips.

Jadé Fadojutimi’s vibrant and sinewy abstractions have been winning the 28-year-old British painter fans for years now, but 2021 marked a new chapter in her market. Fadojutimi’s ascent can be traced back to 2019, when she became the youngest artist in the Tate collection, and the momentum from that acquisition soon carried over into solo shows at Pippy Houldsworth Gallery and Taka Ishii Gallery. December 2020 marked the first major stirrings in Fadojutimi’s secondary market, when her painting Lotus Land (2017) sold for $378,000, which represented a roughly sevenfold improvement over her existing auction record. But these numbers truly took off in 2021, which saw the artist break the $1 million price barrier at auction three times over the course of two days in October, resulting in a new record of £1.17 million ($1.6 million) for her 2017 painting Myths of Pleasure. This market momentum seems poised to continue into next year, building off the institutional momentum of Fadojutimi’s first solo museum show at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, which opened in late November.

Aboudia, Jeux D’Enfant, 2012. Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd.

Aboudia, born Aboudia Abdoulaye Diarrassouba, was subject to some long-overdue market appreciation this year, achieving multiple successive auction records and consistently fetching prices in excess of $100,000 on the secondary market. The Ivorian artist’s frenetic gesture and raw expressiveness have caught the eyes of discerning collectors in the decade since his debut solo show in 2011, including the likes of Jean Pigozzi and Charles Saatchi; the latter exhibited a number of Aboudia’s works in his 2014 “Pangaea” exhibition series. But the artist’s secondary-market appearances moved at a bit more sluggish of a pace, with hammer prices slowly crawling into the tens of thousands—until this year.

In 2021, Aboudia’s work cracked $100,000 for the first time, with multiple pieces at a dedicated Christie’s online sale titled “Noutchy in New York City” fetching six-figure prices. Aboudia’s stellar market year would top out in October, with the sale of his 2012 work Jeux d’Enfant setting a new record for the artist by selling for £201,600 ($277,342). Perhaps the most impressive quality of Aboudia’s year is its sheer consistency: 40 of the artist’s works fetched six-figure prices this year, signaling not just one-off speculation but sustained interest in his practice.

Flora Yukhnovich, I’ll Have What She’s Having, 2020. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Flora Yukhnovich exploded onto the secondary market this year after making her auction debut in April, just a few months after signing with tastemaking gallery Victoria Miro. The British artist’s impressive and imposing riffs on Rococo compositions first appeared on the secondary market at a Bonhams London sale in April, where two untitled 2018 paintings sold for £16,500 ($22,951) and £21,500 ($29,906), results that were more than five and seven times their high estimates, respectively. That initial excitement set the tone for Yukhnovich’s stellar 2021. By June, just months after her auction debut, Yukhnovich surpassed the $1 million mark when her large-scale painting Pretty Little Thing (2019) sold for $1.18 million at a Phillips New York sale. That record would itself be smashed in October, when the textural bacchanalia of I’ll Have What She’s Having (2020) helped push its hammer price to £2.25 million ($3 million) at Sotheby’s London. Yukhnovich’s ascent looks primed to continue into next year, when the artist is scheduled to have her third solo exhibition with Victoria Miro.

Shara Hughes, Night Picket, 2017. Courtesy of Phillips.

Shara Hughes is far from an art world newcomer, but 2021 marked a new level of success for the painter. Hughes has exhibited internationally for 14 years and is now represented by Pilar Corrias, Galerie Eva Presenhuber, and David Kordansky Gallery. She had her breakout moment at the 2017 Whitney Biennial, where the artist had an entire room dedicated to showcasing her vivid, kaleidoscopic landscape paintings. The acclaim from that show carried over into a series of exhibitions at notable galleries including Kasmin, Almine Rech, Rachel Uffner, and Pace Prints, and also spurred her secondary market, with 2018 marking the first year Hughes broke six figures at auction. Hughes’s market grew at a steady pace in the years following, but would take a dramatic leap past the $1 million mark this fall with the sale of her painting Night Picket (2017) at a Phillips London sale in October. The upward trend continued through the end of the year, topping out with her current auction record of $1.48 million, achieved in November.

Ewa Juszkiewicz, Girl in Blue, 2013. Courtesy of Phillips.

Ewa Juszkiewicz’s surrealistic twists on classical European portraiture traditions have been subject to a meteoric market rise during her debut year at auction. The Polish artist’s work first hit the auction block this past March, with her 2009 painting The pods fetching the equivalent of a respectable $36,582. She rocketed into the six-figure range by the end of the month, when one of her paintings sold for £107,100 ($149,117) at a Sotheby’s London sale. Her secondary-market results grew by leaps and bounds from there, going from $480,000 to $600,000 over the course of two days in October. Juszkiewicz’s auction prices topped out at a Phillips New York sale in November, when the 2013 painting Girl in Blue fetched $730,800. When combined with her resume of sold-out solo shows at Almine Rech and representation with Gagosian, Juszkiewicz’s auction results bode well for the future.

Cinga Samson, Lift Off, 2017. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Cinga Samson’s breakout market year saw the painter’s auction records soar into the six-figure stratosphere after just two middling appearances on the secondary market last year. A Phillips New York sale in June blew the lid off Samson’s existing auction record of $16,000 when his 2018 portrait Two piece 1 sold for $378,000, good for a more than tenfold increase of the work’s high estimate. The writing was on the wall, in many ways: The South African artist had largely shown with Cape Town–based galleries like blank projects since starting his career in 2011, but in the past year has gained broader reach with solo shows at Perrotin and the FLAG Art Foundation. And in May, he signed with White Cube, indicating a broader global interest in his signature haunting portraits of blank-eyed Black sitters. Samson’s stellar year was capped off with the October sale of his 2017 portrait Lift Off, which sold for £321,300 ($439,170), which remains his auction record.

Justin Kamp