Intriguingly, perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of the market for Hughes’s work is her paintings’ far-reaching global appeal. Presenhuber pointed out that the works “have an emotional depth that can speak to everyone,” while Uffner highlighted the universality of the work when explaining that collectors of Hughes’s paintings typically can’t be painted with a single brushstroke (excuse the pun). “From trustees of the Met who collect mostly modern and historical work, to young collectors in Asia who focus on hyper-contemporary artists, Shara’s collecting base is broad and can’t be categorized into a single mold,” Uffner said.
As a matter of fact, while interest from across the U.S., South America, and Europe has remained strong, there’s no denying that demand from Asia has been a significant contributor to Hughes’s exploding market these past few years. The artist’s previous auction record was set by her 2016 painting High Waters at Christie’s “20th Century: Hong Kong to New York” sale last December, when it zoomed past its estimate of HK$800,000–HK$1.2 million (US$103,000–$155,000) and ultimately sold for HK$4.1 million (US$532,000) as the sale’s opening lot. However, that record was reset yet again just this week at a Christie’s day sale in Hong Kong, when one of Hughes’s interior scenes from 2010, I don’t Deserve These Flowers, more than quadrupled its high estimate of HK$1 million (nearly US$129,000), selling for HK$4.75 million (nearly US$612,000). Amid such a frothy market, even relatively minor works such as the small painting Broccoli Trees (2016) have soared past their estimates. As the opening lot of Christie’s online sale last December, the 14-by-11-inch painting sold for $37,500 against its estimate of $10,000 to $15,000, an eye-popping sum for a work that was likely acquired for less than $5,000 only five years before.
Meanwhile, based on Artsy data, it’s not only the art world’s top collectors and museums who have found themselves enthralled by Hughes’s painting. Though her work first appeared on Artsy in January 2015, it wasn’t until 2017, the year of the Whitney Biennial, that pieces started to be offered more regularly on the platform. That fall saw a spike in inquiries, and ever since, each time her work has been offered on the site, it’s been met with a flood of inquiries. The number of individual collectors inquiring about her work on Artsy more than tripled from 2017 to 2019, the latter of which was her biggest year on Artsy to date. However, based on the number of collectors inquiring about her work on Artsy thus far in 2021 (already 87 percent to the total for all of 2019), this year is poised to be her biggest yet on the platform.