Art Market

These 8 Artists Broke into the Art Market Big Leagues in 2019

Benjamin Sutton
Dec 24, 2019 7:30PM

Art market headlines were dominated by familiar names in 2019, from Jeff Koons and Claude Monet to KAWS and Banksy. But this year also saw a new set of players achieving major results, from surprising surges into the seven-figure club and sold-out solo presentations in galleries and art fair booths, to repeatedly smashed auction records and power moves onto mega-gallery rosters. These are eight artists who surprised art market observers and broke into the big leagues in 2019.

The Accra-born, Vienna-based painter Amoako Boafo ended 2019 with a superstar turn in Miami. He was the Rubell Museum’s inaugural artist-in-residence, filling his own gallery at Don and Mera Rubell’s sprawling new complex with recent paintings showcasing his trademark color-saturated, stylized portraiture, rendered in materials that give a sense of glossy, freshly painted viscosity. Mariane Ibrahim Gallery’s solo booth of his work at Art Basel in Miami Beach sold out, with works priced in the $15,000–$45,000 range. Mariane Ibrahim found success with Boafo’s work earlier this year at Expo Chicago, where she sold his portrait of the Cameroonian musician Steve Mekoudja to the Hessel Museum of Art in upstate New York.

That kind of support from collectors and institutions is all the more impressive considering Boafo had his first solo show in the U.S. earlier this year, at Roberts Projects in Los Angeles. Collectors will have at least two more opportunities to get in on the action next year: Both Mariane Ibrahim Gallery and Roberts Projects are planning solo shows of Boafo’s work.


You’d be hard-pressed to imagine a better solo debut in New York than what Nairobi-born, London-based painter Michael Armitage got this fall. When the Museum of Modern Art reopened, it boasted a solo exhibition of Armitage’s work, organized by Studio Museum in Harlem curators Thelma Golden and Legacy Russell, featuring eight of his large, magical realist paintings executed on a fabric made from fig tree bark. That showcase—which followed solo shows in Italy and Australia earlier this year, and an appearance in Ralph Rugoff’s Venice Biennale exhibition “May You Live in Interesting Times”—seemed to have an immediate and extreme impact on Armitage’s market. (The MoMA show is on view through January 20th.)

In November, Armitage’s work appeared at auction for the first time, in a day sale at Sotheby’s in New York, where his 2015 painting The Conservationists was expected to fetch between $50,000 and $70,000. It sold to an Asian collector for $1.5 million—more than 21 times its high estimate. In light of that astounding result—and with upcoming institutional shows at Cape Town’s Norval Foundation and Munich’s Haus der Kunst—expect many more Armitage collectors to consign their holdings to auction in 2020.

Cui Jie, the Shanghai-based painter of fantastical and precise retrofuturist cityscapes, moved up a gallery weight class last year and has been steadily showing—and selling—at major art fairs ever since. In May 2018, she signed on with the triumvirate of Antenna Space in Shanghai, Pilar Corrias in London, and Metro Pictures in New York. The latter placed her paintings with buyers at Art Basel’s fairs in Basel and Hong Kong this year, for prices ranging between $45,000 and $50,000. Her collectors include the Rubells, who had one of her large-scale paintings on view in their Miami museum when it opened earlier this month. Kaseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean is also a fan, having included her work in a 2017 Shanghai show organized by his Dean Collection.

That attention from taste-making collectors—and a steady stream of appearances in biennials and group exhibitions at major museums—led to an uptick in auction house action for Cui’s work in 2019. Her auction record was reset twice in the past year; first in April, when her 2015 painting Ground Invading Figure #35 sold just ahead of its high estimate, for HK$237,500 (US$30,256) at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong. That number was bested in November, when her disorienting interior scene Internet Bar (2014) streaked past its high estimate of HK$200,000 (US$25,554) to sell for HK$275,000 (US$35,146) at a Christie’s sale in Hong Kong.

California native Loie Hollowell enjoyed star billing this past fall when Pace Gallery opened its museum-sized headquarters in New York’s Chelsea gallery district. Her latest large-scale paintings were featured alongside presentations of work by canonical artists Alexander Calder and David Hockney. By the time the Pace mothership actually opened to the public, all nine Hollowell canvases on view had already sold, for $100,000 apiece—a major markup from the price list for her last New York solo show, held in 2016 at Feuer/Mesler on the Lower East Side.

Price points for Hollowell’s colorful, subtly sculpted works—which, depending on who you ask, either portray abstracted nudes or sexualized abstractions—have already gone up a notch. At Art Basel in Miami Beach, Pace sold a painting by the artist for $250,000 to a collector who plans to gift it to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The growing demand for and institutional interest in Hollowell’s work has translated into a skyrocketing secondary market for the artist: Of her 12 appearances at auction, 10 were in 2019, and each of her top five lots at auction more than doubled its high estimate. Hollowell’s 2014 painting Lady in Green set a new highwater mark for her work when it sold for £359,250 (nearly $443,000)—more than five times its high estimate—at Christie’s London salesroom in October.

Banksy and KAWS, two artists who started out in the streets and have gone on to become market phenomena, entered the eight-digit club this year—Banksy with his enormous Devolved Parliament (2009), and KAWS with his take on a Simpsons parody of an iconic Beatles album cover. It appears the race is on for the next street art–art market crossover sensation, and the French master of pixelicious mosaics known as Invader seems to be a strong contender. His auction record was reset twice this year; first at Artcurial in May, when his 2008 mosaic Vienna edged past its high estimate to sell for €356,200 (about $399,000). That result was eclipsed in November at Sotheby’s in New York, where his 2014 rendering of a soaring Astro Boy shot past its high estimate of $150,000 to sell for $1.2 million.

Beyond the rising prices for his biggest and most eye-catching mosaics, part of what makes Invader’s market so potentially powerful is its incredible depth. His work has come to auction upwards of 170 times this year, with everything from mosaics and prints to limited-edition maps and vacuum-packed waffles trading hands. The artist, meanwhile, is keeping busy in the streets: He closed out 2019 by creating his largest mosaic to date, steps from the Centre Pompidou, with the blessing of Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo.

Over the past five years, Tschabalala Self swiftly rose to prominence with her mixed-media works incorporating painted forms and patterned textiles to render brightly stylized black figures. In 2019, all the institutional support and collector interest metastasized into a secondary market so cutthroat, the artist herself dismissed it as “a tasteless spectacle” in an interview with Artsy’s Alina Cohen—likening the appearance of her work on the auction block to the history of slave auctions in the United States. But that has done little to slow the market’s appetite for Self’s paintings: They first appeared at auction in March 2019 and have since gone under the hammer 11 more times, resetting her auction record twice in the process.

During this period of frenzied secondary market speculation, Self’s works have consistently outperformed their estimates. At Christie’s contemporary art evening sale during Frieze London in October, her 2015 painting Sapphire was offered with a high estimate of £150,000 (about $185,000). After a pitted bidding war, it sold for £395,250 (about $487,000)—more than double that estimate. That record-setting result was all the more astounding considering the work’s incredible appreciation in value over the span of four years; in 2015, Self’s paintings were selling for $10,000.

By the time he signed onto the roster of Hauser & Wirth this past June, Swiss artist Nicolas Party was already on a dramatic upward swing. His pleasantly stylized figurative paintings rendered in popping pastel hues, as well as matching sculptures, had been showcased in solo exhibitions in Europe and North America for the better part of a decade—including the Hammer Museum in 2016, Modern Art Oxford in 2017, and the Magritte Museum in 2018. Trendsetting collectors including Michael Xufu Huang, David Roberts, and the Rubells have snapped up Party’s works, and the artist recently curated the impressive exhibition “Pastel” at collector Glenn Fuhrman’s FLAG Art Foundation in Chelsea, on view through February 15, 2020. And though Party will keep working with the same team of smaller galleries that have shown his work for years—Xavier Hufkens, Kaufmann Repetto, the Modern Institute, Galerie Gregor Staiger, and Karma—the backing of one of the world’s biggest galleries foreshadows big spikes in price and demand.

Party’s work has turned up at auction 26 times since he joined Hauser & Wirth (the lion’s share of his 36 appearances at auction ever). His auction record has been smashed twice in that time: First at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong, where his 2015 Portrait eclipsed its high estimate of HK$3 million (US$382,667) to sell for HK$5.6 million (US$726,430) in October; and again in November at Christie’s in Hong Kong, which sold his 2016 landscape Rocks for HK$8.7 million (US$1.1 million), officially ushering Party into the seven-figure club.

Earlier this month, Hauser & Wirth sold Party’s monumental pastel Trees (2019) for $385,000 at Art Basel in Miami Beach. Early next year, he will have his first solo show with his new gallery, taking over Hauser & Wirth’s sprawling Los Angeles complex to coincide with the second edition of Frieze Los Angeles.

The pathbreaking abstract painter Ed Clark lived to see the opening of his first solo show at Hauser & Wirth, which began representing him earlier this year. Sadly, he passed away in October, about a month after that show opened, at age 93. Clark’s move to a mega-gallery followed recent solo shows at Tilton Gallery (curated by David Hammons) and Mnuchin Gallery; a star turn in the widely celebrated traveling exhibition “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power”; and a major solo show at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2013. Clark’s career touched on post-war painting and recent art history, from his pioneering use of a push broom to create his dazzling compositions starting in the 1950s in Paris, to his involvement in the New York avant-garde scene that coalesced around 10th Street in Greenwich Village.

The growing curatorial attention paid to Clark’s work had started to translate into market speculation last year, when a painting by the artist first passed the six-digit threshold at auction. That result was eclipsed this year, with his auction record being broken twice—most recently during the November sales in New York, when his 1998 canvas Untitled (Paris Series) soared past its high estimate of $300,000 to sell for $495,000 at a Christie’s day sale. Clark’s work was ubiquitous at Art Basel in Miami Beach this month, as well: Mnuchin Gallery devoted one wall of its booth to a memorial presentation of his paintings, selling five of his works with asking prices ranging from around $150,000 to $300,000; Kayne Griffin Corcoran sold a painting from his “Paris Series” of the 1990s for $375,000; and Hauser & Wirth came within spitting distance of Clark’s auction record when it sold an untitled canvas from 2011 for $475,000. As the art world continues to examine its canon in order to tell more comprehensive and inclusive histories, expect Clark’s name to become increasingly central to the story of American art in the second half of the 20th century—and the concomitant market attention.

Benjamin Sutton
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Jenna Gribbon, Luncheon on the grass, a recurring dream, 2020. Jenna Gribbon, April studio, parting glance, 2021. Jenna Gribbon, Silver Tongue, 2019