Art Market

Inside the Market: Szabolcs Bozó’s Playful Paintings Are Selling for Serious Sums at Auction

Ayanna Dozier
Aug 8, 2022 9:24PM

Szabolcs Bozó, Piro Flamingos (Red Falmingo), 2021. © Szabolcs Bozó. Courtesy of Sotheby’s, New York.

Szabolcs Bozó
P.M.011, 2019

The latest

Szabolcs Bozó’s Piro Flamingos (2021) is a playful acrylic painting of a red flamingo in a top hat with exaggerated eyes that coyly look out at the audience. The towering six-and-half-foot-tall piece sold for HK$1.008 million (US$128,433)—more than double its high estimate of HK$500,000 (US$63,692)—at Sotheby’s “Contemporary Curated” sale in Hong Kong last month, the second-most expensive sale at auction of a work by the emerging artist.

Born in Pécs, Hungary, in 1992, the London-based Bozó has made a splash in both the primary and secondary markets, with his lively figurative paintings commanding strong interest from both emerging and established collectors over the past two years. Impressive in both size and color, Bozó’s work evokes the vivid shapes and creatures featured in cartoons and children’s books, specifically those of Hungarian nursery rhymes that were read to him in his youth.

Szabolcs Bozó
C.L.046, 2020
ArtLife Gallery

Although Bozó’s work is certainly gleeful in nature, by citing Hungarian nursery rhymes and animation, it references a morose history of contesting politics across that nation’s past. The children’s programming produced by animation studios in Budapest, oddly enough, serves as a fascinating political archive in which the shows and movies captured national anxiety during and after its Communist rule. These are reflected in Bozó’s work by cutesy animal creatures with mischievous grins that suggest to audiences that these saccharine scenes are not what they seem.

Key figures

Szabolcs Bozó, The Projection, 2022. © Szabolcs Bozó. Courtesy of Carl Kostyál, London; Stockholm.

  • Bozó made his major auction debut this spring with strong performances at the three major auction houses. At Sotheby’s April contemporary day auction in Hong Kong, P.M.055 (2020), a mid-size acrylic work on paper, met its presale estimate when it sold for HK$302,400 (US$38,521). From there, the numbers climbed higher. At Phillips’s April “New Now” contemporary auction in London, N Hill Ave – LA.01 (2020), an unusually subdued monochromatic oil and pastel on canvas, sold for £78,120 ($97,376), nearly four times its high estimate of £20,000 ($24,154). And at May’s Christie’s 21st-century art day sale in Hong Kong, the vibrant large-scale painting Untitled (2020) sold for HK$1.4 million (US$178,572), a staggering 1,633% increase over its median estimate of HK$80,000 (US$10,191).
  • Just before these auctions, Bozó's Blue Dinoshark (2020) sold for $55,000—more than double its $25,000 low estimate—in March's "Artsy x Thurgood Marshall College Fund" auction. The $55,000 sale was a world record for the artist at the time.
  • Following these spring sales, Bozó’s follow rate jumped on Artsy: He went from having roughly 800 followers in April 2022, to doubling to 1,600 at the time of writing.
  • Bozó also boasts an impressive Instagram presence with over 27,500 followers, which reflects the hype and in-demand nature of his work and artistic style.
  • His first solo museum exhibition opened at M Woods earlier this month in Beijing. The show, “Must You Dance,” features over 50 new pieces, including paintings, works on paper, and several site-specific installations. The exhibition closes on November 27th.
  • Bozó received gallery representation from Carl Kostyál in 2021. He hosted his first solo show with the gallery, “The Explorer,” at its London space in September 2021.
  • His past solo shows include “Busójárás (Carnival)” at Almine Rech’s Brussels gallery (2021–22); “Home Again” at L21 Gallery in Palma de Mallorca, Spain (2020–21); and “Big Bang” at Semiose gallery in Paris (2020).

The takeaway

Bozó’s strong performance on the secondary market, impressive social media following, and recent institutional recognition reveal collectors’ growing interest in works that draw inspiration from animation rendered with a striking street-art technique. This style has become a consistent marker with other artists like Katherine Bernhardt, Robert Nava, and Eddie Martinez.

For Bozó, the bright graphic style is a way to grab the audience’s eye and lure them into a complex, fantastical landscape of creatures inspired by the nursery rhymes and dark humor of his youth. With the current Sotheby’s sale, it is not hard to foresee Bozó’s successes with Asian and European markets and institutions being replicated in the U.S.

Ayanna Dozier
Ayanna Dozier is Artsy’s Staff Writer.