9 Standout Lots from the Artsy x Thurgood Marshall College Fund Auction
The newly launched Artsy x Thurgood Marshall College Fund: Post-War & Contemporary auction features a broad range of works by emerging and blue-chip artists, with proceeds directly supporting an art history scholarship for students in publicly funded HBCUs. Here, we offer insights on nine of the standout lots, including works by Salman Toor, Petra Cortright, Eddie Martinez, and more.
David Shrigley, My Artwork, 2018
During a studio visit in September 2018, David Shrigley told Frieze, “I’ve made a lot of neon signs over the years but I feel like it’s a rite of passage for any conceptual artist—that you have to make neon signs, at least one neon sign, and I guess it’s part of my asserting my credentials as a conceptual artist.” That October, his neons were a highlight of Frieze London, where Stephen Friedman Gallery had built a booth with windows where each piece hung like a sign in a shop. The phrases, typically deadpan, toyed with the awkward phrasing of signs and headlines while conveying trivial messages, including this self-deprecating one. “What I like about neons is they’re common currency in our visual environment as marketing tools, as signage,” Shrigley added.
This typically humorous, text-based work by Shrigley is the largest piece by the artist ever to come to auction and the first neon. With an estimate of $20,000–$30,000, its sale could break Shrigley’s auction record, which is currently £18,900 ($26,124), set in March 2021 by an untitled 1998 hand-painted silver print.
Eddie Martinez, Untitled, 2012
Eddie Martinez has become increasingly known for his energetic, gestural canvases that deftly combine elements of abstraction and representation. At first glance, this untitled work appears to be a feverish mix of quick, brushy lines and daubs of bold color, though longer looking reveals what may be a head couched among a series of objects set together like a still life.
Martinez’s current auction record was set by the invigorating canvas High Flying Bird (2014), which sold at a November 2019 evening sale at Christies for HK$15.73 million ($2.02 million). Earlier this month at Christie’s in London, his 2008 work Lost Luggage sold for $264,600, squarely within its estimate; though that same day at Phillips, I Feel Alright (2007), a painting of a vase bursting with blooms, fetched $352,800, well above its estimate of $150,000–$200,000.
Martinez’s most recent solo show was held at Blum & Poe in Los Angeles earlier this year; he also had a solo show there in 2021, in addition to shows with three other major galleries: Mitchell-Innes & Nash, Perrotin, and Loyal. Between 2017 and 2019, Martinez’s work was featured in solo presentations at five museums across the globe, including the Yuz Museum in Shanghai, and the Drawing Center in New York.
Gladys Nilsson, Wall to Wall, circa 1965
Gladys Nilsson got her start in the art world as a member of the Hairy Who—a group of six recent graduates from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago who showed their work together in the mid-1960s under that oddball moniker. This particular work, a luminous watercolor portraying what appears to be an audience and performers, was painted a year before the Hairy Who was formed, though it speaks to the artist’s signature style.
True to the Hairy Who ethos, Nilsson’s work is rife with cheerful colors and humorous scenarios, though her talent truly shines through her weird and wonderful interpretations of the body—including long spaghetti-like limbs, droopy boobs, poofy coifs of hair, and at times, animal features.
Though Nilsson has steadily been exhibiting in solo shows since the late ’60s, there’s been a renewed interest in her work within the past decade. Since 2019, she’s held solo shows with several prominent galleries, including Hales London, Parker Gallery, Matthew Marks, Garth Greenan Gallery, and Rhona Hoffman Gallery. And her market has been growing in step: At a 2019 Hindman auction, Nilsson’s Dipdick...Adam and Eve after Cranach (1971) sold for $324,500—more than 10 times its high estimate. Like her peers of the Hairy Who and the related Chicago Imagists group, Nilsson’s work has not only gained commercial and critical recognition in recent years, her whimsical, dynamic style is also inspiring new generations of painters.
Judith Linhares, The Somnambulist, 1978
Judith Linhares’s paintings recall the surreal, mystical hillscapes and deserts of California. Linhares’s origins lie in abstract painting in the late 20th century. Over the past 30 years, the artist has returned to figurative work, painting women, animals, and objects found in dreamlike mountains, trees, and waterways. Expressionism, Bay Area figuration, and elements of California assemblage are all evident in Linhares’s paintings. Her stylistic hand elicits strong responses from audiences, as was evident in her inclusion in the pivotal “Bad Painting” (1978) exhibition curated by Marcia Tucker at the New Museum.
This particular work was acquired directly from the artist in 1985 and has remained in the same private collection since then. Linhares’s artistic practice has only grown over the past decade. She maintains steady sales, with her works selling for double their estimates at recent auctions. Currently, Linhares is featured in a solo exhibition, “The Artist as Curator,” on view at the Sarasota Art Museum through April 3rd. In this exhibition, Linhares displays work from the past five decades, as well as works by her contemporaries like Mary Jo Vath and Dona Nelson. Linhares joined P.P.O.W’s gallery roster in 2018.
Petra Cortright, warez, fireworks, crack, 2013
Petra Cortright’s digital paintings prioritize innovation and experimentation using digital technology. Constructing her paintings on her computer, she intentionally layers images and other digital files like GIFs to the point of abstraction. Cortright materializes her digital paintings through a variety of printing techniques and formats to create expressive colorful abstractions that evoke high-gloss photographs.
Cortright’s secondary market has been on the rise: In October 2021, DEATHKARZ “australia” and “songlines” sold for £47,880 ($65,209), almost six times its high estimate, setting the artist’s auction record; and the month prior, her BABES4FREE (2013) sold for $44,100 at Phillips’s “New Now” auction in New York.
Cortright’s early adoption of digital painting and creation has allowed her primary formal practice to remain consistent over the past decade. What has changed, however, are the means by which her work is distributed, from using YouTube in the late 2000s for her video art to the creation of NFTs this past year. With a practice that has its roots in net art, Cortright’s turn to NFTs was a natural progression. Cortright’s formidable foundations as a digital artist have enabled her to make more aesthetically complicated and formally interesting NFTs.
Salman Toor, Humiliated Ancestor, 2016
Salman Toor’s subtle yet deeply sensual paintings explore the tension of queer visibility in Pakistan and abroad. Using color and tone, Toor paints surreal scenes that document daily existence of queer life informed by his own and his friends’ experiences. Despite the lushness to Toor’s brush, a sinister presence haunts his scenes as the fragile bodies on the canvas are occasionally subjugated to violence.
Toor’s paintings herald a new return to the romantic as his work emphasizes the identity, individuality, and forces of his natural and manmade environments. His recent auction records speak to the critical and commercial demand for his work: His painting Girl with Driver (2013) sold for HK$6.91 million ($889,791) at Phillips’s 20th-century and contemporary art evening sale in association with Poly Auction Hong Kong in the summer of 2021, far surpassing its estimate of HK$1.2 million–$2.2 million.
Undoubtedly, the Whitney Museum of American Art’s solo exhibition of Toor’s work in 2021 has contributed to his rising profile. This exhibition unveiled new work that featured a color shift in Toor’s practice from muted beiges to vivid greens that mirror Van Gogh’s practice. The exhibition solidified his presence as a leading contemporary painter who uses form to push the boundaries of figuration and identity within his work. Toor maintains a strong presence across contemporary art history, receiving numerous write-ups about his work from prominent scholars and critics like Roberta Smith.
Szabolcs Bozó, Blue Dinoshark, 2020
Szabolcs Bozó’s paintings find pleasure in pure creation alone. His unmediated colorful, even cutsey, work recalls the childlike instinct of play. With no specific representational object or outcome in mind, Bozó’s paintings allow audiences to be raptured by painting’s simplest elements: form and color. Bozó welcomes the association of fun and cuteness that is often applied to his work, stating, “Funnily, I used to say that instead of Cubism, I represent the Cuteism movement.” There is depth to Bozó’s use of cuteness, as the artist’s recent works have increasingly incorporated personal memory, layering, and scale.
Last year was a threshold year for the artist—his follows on Artsy tripled, and he held solo exhibitions at Carl Kostyál in London and Almine Rech in Brussels. Collectors are drawn to the self-taught Hungarian artist’s expressions of humanity and glee, evidenced by the support of Kenny Schachter and Stefan Simchowitz. Currently, Bozó’s first museum project, “Balaton,” is on view in Shanghai at the Sifang Art Museum in collaboration with M Woods and Carl Kostyál through April 10th.
Bozó’s paintings are experiencing cross-generational reach, engaging a younger, social media–savvy audience, as well as experienced collectors and curators. His social media presence, including over 25,000 followers on Instagram, speaks to his growing reach.
Tala Madani, Cake Painting, 2006
Tala Madani is known for biting paintings, drawings, and animations that fearlessly address the political and cultural conflicts of the present. Known for her deft use of irony and humor, Madani has honed a figurative and narrative style that’s filled with gesture and expression.
This work comes from the artist’s well-known, early “Cake Men” series from 2006–07, in which groups of men crowd around, toy with, or consume pink birthday cakes. Her use of the festive confection introduces notions of aging, as well as childhood, alongside depictions of silly and awkward unkempt adult men.
This work was made the same year that Madani graduated from Yale’s MFA program and had her first solo show, which was focused on the “Cake Men” series. The artist will be featured in the first North American survey of her work this fall at MOCA Los Angeles. Madani’s current auction record was set in 2018, when her large 2016 work The House sold for €60,000 ($71,327) at Christie’s.
Wayne Thiebaud, Palms, 1958
This Wayne Thiebaud painting of a pair of palm trees against a muted, dusky sky has a charming backstory: The work was acquired directly from the artist by the seller’s mother, who won in it a trade for a dining table. It was included in a 1976 survey of the artist’s work at the Phoenix Museum of Art.
Thiebaud, who died in December 2021, is beloved for his lush paintings of cakes and other sugary delicacies, though his wide-ranging oeuvre has been increasingly unearthed in commercial and institutional spaces in recent years. This early, gestural piece was made during a transitional moment for the artist—painted after his move to California following a sabbatical in New York, where he’d befriended Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jasper Johns.
Palm trees are a subject that Thiebaud returned to throughout his career, including in etchings in the 1960s, ink paintings in the 1970s, and his “Palm Ridge” series in the 1970s and ’80s. This particular portrayal, with the palms seemingly nestled together on a placid beach, like a couple that’s just witnessed a sunset, is typical of the artist’s ability to make his non-human subjects relatable. “For me, painting has a lot to do with the exercise of empathy, where you have to believe that you’re walking the path or under the trees, that you are somehow able to transfer yourself into that picture,” Thiebaud once said.
The artist’s current auction record was set in 2020 by the 1962 work Four Pinball Machines, which sold for $19.14 million—over $1 million more than its low estimate.