Market Brief: An Oli Epp Painting Sold for Nearly 10 Times Its High Estimate
Oli Epp, Whistleblower, 2017. Courtesy of Phillips.
Oli Epp’s auction record was broken at Phillips’s “New Now” sale in London last Tuesday, when his playfully stylized and streamlined painting of a referee, Whistleblower (2017), sold for a staggering £144,900 ($201,000)—nearly 10 times the work’s high estimate. Bidders competing for the lot hailed from 10 different countries spanning Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and the Caribbean, with a collector in Asia ultimately making the winning bid. The result represented a leap of more than $70,000 from Epp’s previous auction record, set just two months earlier at a Christie’s sale in Hong Kong. The fierce competition and startling results signal increasing and broad interest in the London-born and -based artist’s depictions of featureless human figures, which often exaggerate the absurdities of contemporary life.
- Epp’s work made its secondary-market debut in a 2018 sale at London’s Chiswick auction house. The silkscreen print Multi Multitasking (2018) was offered with a high estimate of £1,500 ($1,960), but ultimately failed to sell. This underwhelming first auction appearance came over a year after Epp received his BFA from the City and Guilds of London Art School, one of the U.K.’s oldest art schools, and four months after his third-ever solo gallery exhibition (at Paris gallery Semiose).
- Prior to the recent six-figure results, Epp’s work had never sold for more than $3,000 at auction. In 2019, his secondary-market record was set with the sale of a 2018 screenprint, Carpe Diem—a typically deadpan, airbrushed rendering of a McDonald’s takeout window worker—at a Forum Auctions sale in London. It sold for £2,200 ($2,790), more than three times its high estimate. The sale came on the heels of Epp’s positively reviewed U.S. solo debut at Richard Heller Gallery in California, which featured a new body of work playfully exploring the darker side of humanity’s relationship with technology.
- Epp experienced his most significant secondary-market milestones this year; the young artist’s top three auction records were all set within the last three months. His two most recent painting sales, the pop culture–infused The Magician (2018) in May and last week’s Whistleblower, set unprecedented six-figure benchmarks for Epp’s work.
- This recent auction frenzy is in keeping with demand for Epp’s work on Artsy. Collector interest in the artist’s work was essentially level in 2019 and 2020 after a surge in 2018. Demand is surging again in 2021; thus far this year, the number of collectors inquiring about his work on the platform has already doubled last year’s total.
Interest in Epp’s work, filled with its signature clean lines and flat surfaces, has quickly accelerated. Beyond this recent flurry of auction activity, Epp has built an impressive career, especially for an artist in his mid-twenties. His work is in the holdings of the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, as well as mega-collector Andy Hall’s Hall Art Foundation. Along with recognition from major museums and influential collectors, Epp is the co-creator and founder of PLOP, an artist residency in London. Given Epp’s growing popularity, rising auction prices, and upcoming solo exhibition this year at Carl Kostyál in Stockholm, it’s likely his work will continue to pique more collectors’ interest and add to his market’s momentum.