Which Beginner Artists Are Most in Demand? About What Sales of Phillips New York Can Tell To Us

Flora Yukhnovich, Pretty Little Thing, 2019.

The London-based auction house Phillips has gained a reputation as the go-to venue to acquire works by emerging artists in high demand on the primary market. Each season, the New York day and evening sales at Phillips typically generate records for rising talent, and last week, that was certainly the case. At those sales, new benchmarks were set for 26 artists, including Cinga Samson, Avery Singer, Titus Kaphar, Julie Curtiss, and Kehinde Wiley. Together, thee sales brought in a collective $153 million with buyer’s premium across 324 lots, surpassing the $101 million hammer low estimate.

Phillips specialists have been vocal about tapping increased fervor among collectors for works by emerging and mid-career women artists and artists of color. Relative to their Western male peers, these artists have long been under-represented in the institutions around the world. “There was a lot of intentionality in going after under-represented artists,” Robert Manley, Phillips’s deputy chairman and worldwide co-head of 20th- and 21st-century art sales, told ARTnews last week.

But which artists are at the top of collectors’ lists? Below, a look at the works from Phillips’s New York sales that saw the most competition among bidders.

1. Flora Yukhnovich, Pretty Little Thing, 2019

Flora Yukhnovich, Pretty Little Thing, 2019.

Sold for $1.2 million

Known for her paintings drawing on Rococo styles pioneered in the 18th century by artists like Jean-Honoré Fragonard and Jean-Antoine Watteau, Flora Yukhnovich recently got major gallery representation in 2019 at Victoria Miro, which has locations in London and Venice. At the time, she hadn’t even turned 30. Now, the London-based artist’s work has caught the attention of international buyers, including Scottish property developer David Roberts. At Phillips, her canvas Pretty Little Thing (2019) sold for $1.2 million, 20 times its estimate of $60,000, setting a new record and surpassing her previous record of $29,900, paid for an untitled 2018 work on paper at Bonhams in April 2021. Pretty Little Thing is the third work by the artist ever to be auctioned.2

Emily Mae Smith, Waiting Room, 2015

Photo : Phillips

Sold for $756,000

Emily Mae Smith’s surreal paintings featuring broom-like characters have captivated the art market in recent years. Waiting Room (2015), which depicts Smith’s protagonist with its eyes replaced by ticking clocks, was once included “Unrealism,” a show curated in 2015 by dealers Jeffrey Deitch and Larry Gagosian for Art Basel Miami. Just this month in Hong Kong, Phillips set the artist’s record with Broom Life (2014), which sold for HKD 12.4 million ($1.6 million), besting the work’s high estimate 20 times over. This work didn’t sell for quite as much, though it also performed well, going for a total of $756,000, 19 times its low estimate of $40,000.3

Cinga Samson, Two Piece 1, 2018

Photo : Phillips

Sold for $378,000

Over the past few years, there’s been a wave of interest in young figurative painters challenging Western depictions of Black subjects. Among them is the South African star Cinga Samson, whose 2018 painting of a young Black man with a vacant stare man made a splash at Phillips. Two Piece 1 was sold by Oslo-based collector and translation service owner Arne Austrheim, who bought it in 2018 from Cape Town’s blank projects gallery. At the time, Samson’s works were selling privately at prices between $10,000 and $15,000. These days, that small sum looks like a big discount. At Phillips, after bids flooded in from New York, Hong Kong, and London, Two Piece 1 sold to an online bidder for a hammer price of $300,000 ($378,000 with premium), 12 times the work’s low estimate.4

Paul Wonner, Flowers, Chairs, a Dog and Two Birds, 1986

Photo : Phillips

Sold for $201,600

Paul Wonner’s Flowers, Chairs, a Dog and Two Birds (1986) came to Phillips from the collection of California arts patron Robin Quist Gates, who bought it in 1986 and held on to it until her death in 2021. Wonner, who died in 2008, painted intricate still lifes, and has largely remained a lesser-known figure associated with the Bay Area Figurative Movement, which also included Richard Diebenkorn, Elmer Bischoff, and David Park. Gate’s heirs sold it at Phillips for $201,600—13 times the work’s low estimate of $15,000—making it the sixth-highest selling work by Wonner to surface at auction. Still, it is short of Wonner’s current record price of $324,000, paid for his 1959 canvas Still life with cup back in 2007 during a contemporary art day sale at Sotheby’s in New York.5

Godwin Champs Namuyimba, Destiny, 2019

Sold for $107,100

Ugandan painter Godwin Champs Namuyimba was represented at Phillips by his painting Destiny (2019), which depicts a Black astronaut in repose, his head resting on a globe. John Auerbach, a former Sotheby’s executive and an art collector, originally purchased work directly from the artist at a time when his paintings were selling for prices between $1,000 and $2,000. It sold for $107,100, 13 times the estimate of $8,000, just days before the artist is due to have a solo show at New York’s East Projects gallery. In the past year, a group of works by the young artist have recently surfaced at auction, going for prices well past their low estimate.6

Angel Otero, Acis and Galatea, 2013

Photo : Phillips

Sold for $277,200

At Phillips’s day sale, Angel Otero’s Acis and Galatea (2013), made in homage to a painting by Nicolas Poussin of the same name, sold for $277,200, 11 times its estimate of $25,000. The result marks a new record for the artist, who is a staple in contemporary art auctions. It surpassed Otero’s previous benchmark of $162,4oo, paid for Drifter’s Escape (2015) at Phillips recent Hong Kong sale staged in collaboration with Chinese auction house Poly on June 7. The seller purchased the thickly painted canvas at a Christie’s New York sale in March 2013, where it was auctioned to benefit the Brooklyn Museum for $52,500. In 2013, the work was given a $20,000 low estimate; it is now worth nearly 14 times that amount.7

Alex Gardner, Chair #2, 2016

Photo : Phillips

Sold for $214,200

Los Angeles–based artist Alex Gardner, who is part of the L.A. artist-run collective New Image Art , is known for his dreamy compositions of featureless Black subjects. (For a 2020 show at the Hole gallery in New York, he introduced blue characters to his oeuvre, telling Metal magazine that the choice is meant to reinforce the “intended universality of the figures.”) At Phillips, Gardner’s Chair #2 (2016), depicting one figure sitting atop another kneeling one, sold for $214,200, 10 times the $20,000 low estimate. The result set a record for the artist, outdoing the $191,600 paid for Triangle #2 (2016) at Phillips during a New York contemporary art sale just two months ago, in April.8

Jadé Fadojutimi, Untitled, 2018

Photo : Phillips

Sold for $310,000

At just 27 years old, Jadé Fadojutimi is currently the youngest artist in the collection of the Tate. It’s been a big year for the British artist, with her work on view in the Liverpool Biennial and solo shows at Taka Ishii Gallery in Tokyo and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami in the pipeline. Alongside all this, her market has taken off, with a new record of $725,000 minted at Phillips in Hong Kong earlier this year. At Phillips in New York, her chaotically composed painting Untitled (2018) outpaced expectations, selling for $390,600, 6 times the low estimate of $60,000.9

Allison Zuckerman, The First Royal Portrait, 2018

Photo : Phillips

Sold for $252,000

In 2018, when she was just 27 years old, Allison Zuckerman emerged during Art Basel Miami Beach as one of the fair’s ascending talents. Miami collectors Don and Mera Rubell gave her solo show at their museum that year—and effectively put her on the map. Sourcing imagery from high and low culture, Zuckerman’s collaged works are now a hot commodity at auction. Her large-scale painting The First Royal Portrait (2018) sold for a hammer price of $200,000, more than six times the low estimate. The anonymous seller purchased it just three years ago at the New York gallery Kravets/Wehby.10

Amoako Boafo, Untitled, 2018

Photo : Phillips

Sold for $655,200

In the past few years, Amoako Boafo has had a rapid market rise, gaining representation at galleries like Los Angeles’s Robert Projects and Chicago’s Mariane Ibrahim, as well as a solid collector base that includes television producer turned art dealer Jeremy Larner. At Phillips’s most recent New York evening sale, his 2018 untitled portrait of a subject in a billowing yellow garment sold for $655,200, eight times the $80,000 low estimate. In December, Christie’s set the current auction record for Boafo following his collaboration with Dior Homme, selling his 2019 canvas Baba Diop (2019) for $1.2 million during the house’s Hong Kong modern and contemporary art evening sale. That price beat the artist’s previous record of $880,000, set at Phillips earlier in the year.


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