Market Brief: Baldur Helgason’s Playful Figures See Serious Demand
The Chicago-based Icelandic artist Baldur Helgason has built up a passionate collector base with his playful approach to portraiture, which blends elements of caricature with art historical allusions. In the past week, his works have elicited the most dramatic week-over-week increase in inquiries of any artist on Artsy, fueled in large part by his recent solo exhibition on the platform, “Bad Timing,” with London’s Ramp Gallery. Already, the number of collectors who’ve inquired about his work on Artsy this year has nearly doubled the total number for 2020. This surge in demand on the platform comes amid rising overall art market interest in his work in the U.S., his native Iceland, and beyond.
- Helgason made his secondary-market debut during a Tate Ward x Artsy auction in February, when his screenprint Love Me (2020) sold for £3,438 ($4,843), or more than five times its high estimate.
- Two months later, Sotheby’s tested out collectors’ interest in Hong Kong, offering Helgason’s 2017 painting Portrait of a Man in a Trench Coat during a contemporary art day sale there. It more than quadrupled its high estimate of HK$150,000 (US$19,000), selling for HK$604,800 (US$77,000). Given current levels of interest in his work, it seems likely this auction record will be broken by the end of the year.
- April was also a big month for Helgason’s primary market: He was featured prominently at the virtual edition of his hometown fair, EXPO Chicago. California’s Richard Heller Gallery sold the painting Patty at Metro (2021) on the fair’s opening day for an undisclosed price, and another new work, Patty at Neo (2021), from its fair booth on Artsy.
- Helgason’s market breakout in 2021 comes on the heels of an exceptionally prolific year. At the beginning of 2020, he had a solo show at New York’s Padre Gallery, followed by his first solo show with Richard Heller in the spring, as well as two-artist shows at Gallery Port in Reykjavík (with Patty Spyrakos) and Ramp Gallery (with Emilio Villalba).
Given his prolific output and, thus far, the insatiable collector appetite for his work, expect Helgason’s profile to keep rising. His standing within Artsy’s marketplace has already changed dramatically in the past year: In 2020, he was the 451st artist on the site in terms of the number of collectors inquiring about his work; thus far in 2021, he’s the 55th. The success of the current show with his London gallery and recent auction debut in Hong Kong could be signs of an expanding collector base spanning three continents.