What’s Next? 18 Trends That Will Move the Art World Forward

What’s Next? 18 Trends That Will Move the Art World Forward

Source: ARTnews.

In consultation with art world professionals—artists, dealers, curators, museum administrators— the editors of ARTnews have attempted to foresee the Next Big Things to prove significant around the art world.

When the editors of ARTnews first endeavored on the project of foreseeing the Next Big Things to prove significant around the art world, the future had a different cast to it than would soon be the case when the coronavirus crisis struck. But the future is always in flux—and thus always suited for the exercise of conjecture and imagination. In consultation with art world professionals—artists, dealers, curators, museum administrators—we identified dynamics and ideas on the horizon, some with trajectories tracing into the past, others more sudden in origination. What follows is a survey of that horizon as presented in the Summer 2020 issue of ARTnews

OVRs: An untitled painting by Albert Oehlen from 1988 for sale in Gagosian’s online viewing room.COURTESY GAGOSIAN.

The Market Will Expand Online…

In March, when Jodi Pollack, co-worldwide head of Sotheby’s 20th Century Design, moved her mid-season sale online, she and others in her department were concerned. They had some factors in their favor: the design market had been strong and growing, and online they had a captive audience to woo with choice property and reasonable estimates. But then, in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, the world had been turned upside down.

What ended up happening was better than they expected: the sale amounted to $4 million, the highest-ever total for an online sale of 20th-century design, with a “Moorish” twisted-wire chandelier executed by Tiffany Studios in the late 19th century selling for $300,000—20 times its high estimate. Sotheby’s retained its usual geographic breadth of bidding (with 31 countries represented), and 29 bidders counted as first-time buyers in the design category, including some doing their first business ever with the firm.

By early April, overall dedicated online sales at Sotheby’s had brought in some $36 million—more than double the take in same period in 2019. And as the lockdown continued, Clare McAndrew, an economist behind the annual Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report told the New York Times, “This is the stimulus the art market needed to move online.”

Over the past decade at Christie’s, figures for live bidding have gone down while those for online bidding have gone up. “People learn about the objects and experience them fundamentally differently than ten years ago,” said Marc Porter, chairman of Christie’s Americas. Figures from last year had already shown growth in Christie’s online space: Total sales of art online were up 11 percent over 2018, and of all global clients, 64 percent bought or bid online. Of new buyers, 60 percent did their business in online sales, and online sales continue to recruit the largest number of new buyers, at around 41 percent.

Lazy loaded image
Tiffany Studios: A “Moorish” twisted-wire chandelier, ca. 1895.COURTESY SOTHEBY’S.

While online sales still make up a small portion of the overall art market—in 2019, they represented just 9 percent of a total $64 billion in global sales, according to the Art Basel/UBS Report—Porter said he is seeing “an acceleration of the businesses we’ve been building. More will be online. More will be private. There will be an active auction market for people who prefer to transact that way.”

At Sotheby’s, Nicole Schloss, co-head of contemporary art day auctions in New York, said, “Simultaneously with galleries online viewing rooms growing, … we’ve been able to drive traffic to Sothebys.com for bidding in both online-only sales and live sales.” And art fairs, too, have migrated online. Marc Spiegler, director of Art Basel, said even when the world returns to its in-person ways, he foresees an accelerated shift toward digital promotion. “Galleries that have been forced to think about how they can promote their programs digitally—whether that’s online studio visits with artists, or online viewing rooms—will continue to take advantage of such features,” he said.

Signaling how galleries have started to think in terms of content, Sam Orlofsky, a longtime director at Gagosian who has spearheaded the mega-gallery’s online viewing rooms, said, “this is not a tech story—this is a media story.” During Art Basel Hong Kong in 2019, Gagosian set a new benchmark for an online sale when a painting by Albert Oehlen sold from its viewing room for $6 million. As a lead-up to that sale, Orlofsky and Gagosian CEO Andrew Fabricant appeared in a video on the gallery’s website discussing both the painting and its market—and such promotional tools will continue to be important in the future. “This is a question of having the ability to reach as many people—and particularly as many new people—as possible,” Orlofsky said. “If you don’t have a platform to reach people, they aren’t just going to stumble upon you.”

Online content is important for the auction houses too. Both Christie’s and Sotheby’s have been moving away from printed catalogues, and more dynamic storytelling adds value, said Matthew Rubinger, head of marketing at Christie’s. In 2019, visitors to Christie’s various content channels grew by 32 percent, and people who visit Christie’s website and view the content—stories, videos, and so forth—are some 30 percent more likely to bid in a sale than those who visit the site and don’t linger to look.

“Current events will have transformative impact on events in the art market,” said Pollack, Sotheby’s co-head of design, back in April. “Technology will play a huge part in how we execute going forward.”

Lazy loaded image
“The Quarantine Concerts”: David Grubbs performing at home.COURTESY THE ARTIST.

Performance Art Will Go Virtual

“It was strange—I was alone in an apartment—but I found out that 450 people were logged on and there was all this feedback afterward,” David Grubbs said of a recent performance he contributed to a program called “The Quarantine Concerts.” “People were tuning in from Europe and Suriname.”

The prospect of performance art in the virtual realm may seem at odds with a movement that prizes presence and connection in real time, but it is becoming more and more acceptable—and even appealing—to practitioners and audiences all over. Opera companies and theatrical endeavors have found success with broadcasts in venues like cinemas for years, and now the genres are expanding as the screens shrink in size.

Grubbs knows his way around thinking through the finer points of audience engagement as a poet (who often collaborates with Susan Howe) and the author of books including Now that the audience is assembled and The Voice in the Headphones. And he has good company in others who imagine a lasting future for online performance. Tim Griffin, executive director and chief curator of the Kitchen—a decades-old performance haven in New York—said online is a world waiting for more engagement of any and all kinds. “We try to experiment as much as possible, and I feel like it opens up possibilities that are new,” he said of programming that will continue in the mold of “Kitchen Broadcasts” that debuted this past spring. “As curators, we have talked about a desire for a kind of intimacy, and even if you’re not having a palpable experience of people in a room, you can have a personal connection that could be like somebody whispering in your ear. It can be really resonant, enriching, and soulful in a way.”

Lazy loaded image
Art & Science: Physicist Brian Greene in conversation with Janna Levin, the director of sciences at Pioneer Works, about Greene’s new book Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe.PHOTO: CAITLIN OCHS.

Art and Science Will Come Together

As scientists have worked on issues as overwhelming and abstract as climate change, artists have been active for their part helping convey complicated matters by other means. The environmentally minded TBA21-Academy has commissioned research-intensive artworks related to the warming of the world’s oceans and problems that will inevitably result. More and more institutions are following similar lines to devise scientific endeavors in increasingly ambitious ways.

Pioneer Works in Brooklyn has run an extensive science program bringing collaborators like physicists and astronomers into its artistic fold, with decorated scientists participating in programs that are far more than just novel lectures. And the next edition of the Getty Foundation’s Pacific Standard Time exhibition series, slated for 2024, will take up the theme “Art x Science x LA” to explore artistic connections between Los Angeles and its scientific communities, including the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. One of the participating institutions is the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, which has a long history of exhibitions based on its medical and scientific holdings and a long-standing partnership with JPL, plus an artist-in-residence program with the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech). “We see this as an opportunity to show how the Huntington lives and breathes on a daily basis at the intersection of art and science,” said Christina Nielsen, director of the Huntington’s art museum.

Lazy loaded image
Teamwork: Jasper Johns, John Delk, and Julian Lethbridge at the installation of a Foundation for Contemporary Arts benefit exhibition of posters in 2006.COURTESY FOUNDATION FOR CONTEMPORARY ARTS.

Collectivity and Collaboration Will Be the Way Forward

“Collectivity is always in the air because we as people belong to a whole, and one of the interesting things about the art world is, it allows you to pose questions about the nature of that belonging over and over again—that’s what artists do,” said David Lewis, whose namesake gallery in New York participated in mega-dealer David Zwirner’s shared online “Platform” viewing-room program this past spring when the economic fallout from the coronavirus brought galleries together to help support fellow operations of varying size. Though it was born of necessity, the experience of “connecting and introducing and reaching out” to different networks offered a “commendable and exciting” model for collaboration in the future, Lewis said. And it followed a shift he noticed in his artists’ thinking at the time—a migration of interests from the micro to the macro scale. “It’s like in 1968 when people first saw pictures of the Earth from space,” he said. “There’s this sudden awareness that we’re one globe, one planet—almost like we’ve become a single pulsing organism.”

Collective endeavors have taken on increasing currency in recent years, with platforms such as the multicity Condo gallery-share program helping to spur business among small and mid-tier operations and museums working together. But the future has more in store—and likely of a nature we haven’t seen before.

Lazy loaded image
Aid: graphic from Mask Crusaders’ website.COURTESY MASKCRUSADERS.ORG.

As executive director of the Foundation for Contemporary Arts (FCA), Stacy Tenenbaum Stark is part of a coalition of leaders of grant-giving organizations who combined forces this spring to form the Artist Relief Fund, with ongoing plans to allocate emergency support during the coronavirus crisis after an initial launch in April with $10 million raised. Its scale may be new, but the spirit behind the effort taps a long-running legacy that began in 1963—more than a half-century ago—when Jasper Johns and John Cage came together and founded the FCA to raise money to help stage a performance by their fellow artist friend Merce Cunningham. “A through-line of artists being generous and wanting to help their own has always been there,” said Stark. Asked if she thinks that line will continue and even intensify in the future, she said, “I hope it will—and I think it will.”

The kind of collectivity that artists cherish can vary in character. “If you’re collaborating or working with someone you don’t like or who doesn’t like you, that can be much more interesting than everyone agreeing,” said Robert Wilson, who as a theater director and founder of the Watermill Center—a collectively inclined “laboratory for the arts and humanities”—has worked with expansive casts since the 1960s.

Then there is the case of an upstart project initiated in part by artist Camille Henrot when the need for protective equipment for health-care workers presented itself this past spring. As a member of a private listserv through which artists engage with fabricators, technicians, and others, Henrot raised the prospect of donating materials that many had in their studios and—with the aid of others in the network who came to be known as the Mask Crusaders—helped produce and distribute needed supplies in dozens of cities within days. “I’ve always been interested in the dynamic between the individual and the collective,” Henrot said, “and there’s something magical about how it happened.”

As to how best to keep the spirit alive, Henrot suggested adhering to a simple directive: “Swim in the water and help people who do not have the force to swim or the possibility to stay afloat.” Aquatic imagery applies, she added, because “in water, you constantly need to move.”

Galleries Will Battle with Auction Houses

Lazy loaded image
Mega Forces: Arne Glimcher, Bill Acquavella, Larry Gagosian, and Marc Glimcher.PHOTO: AXEL DUPEUX.

In January, just over a month after financier and storied art aficionado Donald Marron died, there came news that the major auction houses—Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips—were submitting bids for his collection, which he’d built over the course of six decades and was valued at nearly half a billion dollars. Rumors floated, suggesting that works from his holdings—including top-quality pieces by the likes of Picasso and Gerhard Richter—would appear on the block as early as May.

But in February came even more surprising news: Marron’s trove of some 300 artworks would go not to an auction house but to a collective collaboration between three mega-galleries—Pace, Gagosian, and Acquavella—who would split them up and sell them on their own. Exhibitions of the material planned for May at Pace and Gagosian were postponed during the coronavirus crisis, but the deal itself is still very much on—and art advisers are convinced that the arrangement could set a precedent and become a weapon in dealers’ arsenals to battle the ever more powerful auction houses. “This is the first of many such deals,” said one adviser who works with high-value transactions. “We will definitely see other estates and divorces executing similar arrangements. It’s a big blow for the auction houses.”

A prized estate, the adviser added, can get a higher dollar offer from a consortium of well-connected galleries than from an auction house. As another adviser put it, “under a billion dollars, galleries are a formidable foe for an auction house—when they collaborate.”

Lazy loaded image
Playing Catch-Up: Alex Katz in front of his painting January 3, 1993, at the Guggenheim Bilbao in 2015.LUIS TEJIDO/EPA/SHUTTERSTOCK

Alex Katz’s Market Will Catch Up With His Importance

Alex Katz, who this summer turns 93, is poised for liftoff. The Guggenheim Museum is planning a major retrospective, young artists have been looking at his work, and the market is starting to appreciate the artist’s depth.

At auction, the excitement started in February 2019 when, for the first time, one of his paintings passed the $1 million mark. (The 1987 portrait Ada and Louise went for $1.2 million at Christie’s London.) Then, last October, Phillips London reset the record when the 1972 painting Blue Umbrella I soared past its $1.4 million presale estimate to make $4.1 million.

An argument could be made that Katz is as historically important as peers like David Hockney (whose auction record is $91 million) and Gerhard Richter (whose auction record is $46.3 million)—and yet his market has lagged behind theirs. But dealer Thaddaeus Ropac, who has represented Katz for 25 years with his galleries in London, Paris, and Switzerland, has seen a steady rise in interest for the American artist in Europe, starting with institutions and, more recently, private collectors. Ropac’s first show of Katz’s paintings in Paris in the early ’90s “was a total surprise to many Europeans, including museum curators,” he said. The Centre Pompidou, which held works by American peers like Jasper Johns but not one by Katz, bought one. And the fever spread, as Ropac said; at last count he’d sold almost 50 pieces to European institutions, with the Albertina Museum in Vienna acquiring work by the artist in depth.

American institutions have always had strong Katz holdings—the Met alone has works from various periods of his career. But while European museums mounted survey shows, American institutions lagged behind. “For years we were talking to many American institutions, trying to see how they could honor him with a major retrospective,” Ropac said. Then, in January, the Guggenheim announced a Katz retrospective planned for 2022. “The announcement of that show has affected the level of interest in Katz—it has changed the market.”

Other factors have contributed to the resurgence of interest—not least the fact that, at 92, Katz is still painting. And 10 years ago, he made a decision that added a certain currency to his profile when, for his New York representation, he left the well-established Pace Gallery for the younger, hipper Gavin Brown’s Enterprise. (And this even though mega-gallerist Gagosian had expressed interest in taking him on.) Brown has mounted numerous exhibitions of new paintings and sees Katz as capturing the present moment. “To be painting lived and experienced moments at 92 with a fearlessness and a confidence—I don’t know any artist a quarter or a third his age who can do that,” Brown said. “It seems as though with every painting he jumps off the cliff with complete confidence he can fly.”

Brown added, in mind of a legacy still propagating, “young artists and the primary market have great respect and a great response to that. He’s painting in the last period of his life and he is doing it at full speed.”

Lazy loaded image
Waste Not, Want Not: Artworks in ROKBOX’s sustainable shipping crates at the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow.PHOTO: GORDON BURNISTON.

Shipping art around the globe can leave a deep carbon footprint. A “fantastic amount of waste” is how Andrew Stramentov characterized what he saw while working in various capacities for businesses like Gagosian gallery and Sotheby’s. That’s why he set out (with Verity Brown, a former registrar for Gagosian and Pace Gallery, among others) to create a sustainable shipping product that was smart in terms of climate and tough in terms of protection.

Launched last year, ROKBOX crates are built with lightweight recycled or recyclable materials, and a single container can be used hundreds of times. “We are trying to make the art world more sophisticated, less burdensome, cheaper, and easier—it’s ripe for adding a bit of sensible stuff,” Stramentov said.

ROKBOX isn’t alone in thinking this way. Recently, the Independent art fair and the storage and logistics company Crozier debuted a collective shipping arrangement, grouping artworks to ship en masse between Los Angeles and New York, instead of having galleries do so separately. Independent cofounder and CEO Elizabeth Dee said the initiative was developed after conversations about recognizing the rising need for an “ecosystem of sustainability” in the arts.

Lazy loaded image
Going Green: Kara Walker, Fons Americanus, 2019.PHOTO: BEN FISHER.

…So Will Artists’ Choice of Materials…

“This is the moment of the most immaterial art we will have,” said Lucia Pietroiusti, curator of a long-running General Ecology research project at the Serpentine Galleries in London. “There is a sense that materials should be let go.” Translation: the art world is ready to consider the ecological ramifications of how it operates, particularly when it comes to the very things artists are using to make their work.

Kara Walker garnered a lot of attention for her Tate Turbine Hall commission Fons Americanus, a memorial to the transatlantic slave trade that took the form of a tiered fountain standing 44 feet tall and constructed from biodegradable cork, soft wood, and jesmonite (a mix of acrylic and cement) that was, in the end, taken apart, its materials recycled. And earlier this year, in the service of “a new way of thinking and acting” at London’s Serpentine Galleries, artistic director Hans Ulrich Obrist asserted, “ecology will be at the heart of everything that we do.” To that end, the South African design studio Counterspace won a Serpentine architecture commission for a pavilion made of cork and recycled bricks, and a new multiyear initiative called “Back to Earth”—conceived in part to honor the Serpentine’s 50th anniversary—has invited artists, scientists, musicians, poets, and interdisciplinary thinkers to propose projects in mind of climate change.

Lazy loaded image
Clean Eating: A 2015 gallery dinner at Alexander Gray Associates catered by plant-based chef Jay Astafa.COURTESY ALEXANDER GRAY ASSOCIATES.

…And Their Gallery Dinners

Anyone who has been in the New York art scene since Chelsea became ascendant in the mid 1990s will be familiar with the old menu choices at Bottino, where numerous galleries had their post-opening dinners: calamari and charcuterie plate followed by a choice of salmon, steak, or pasta. These days, more and more galleries are choosing to go vegan; you are more likely to encounter cauliflower steaks and tofu tacos. “Compassion is the goal, and veganism is the tool to get there,” said Alexander Gray, who co-owns his namesake gallery in New York with his partner, David Cabrera (himself involved in an Upstate animal sanctuary). Alexander Gray Associates went totally vegan in 2011 and others, including Garth Greenan Gallery in New York, have adopted similar measures for reasons owing to moral choices as well as environmental sustainability.

The green trend is catching on with even some of the more ostentatious mega-galleries, with Hauser & Wirth canceling dinners it had planned around the Art Basel fair in Switzerland and pledging instead to donate funds it would have spent to Art for Acres, an initiative run by Global Wildlife Conservation to help preserve forests.

Artists Will Be Nonexclusive

Lazy loaded image
Sharing Is Caring: Adam Pendleton, Untitled (A Victim of American Democracy), 2016.COURTESY PACE GALLERY.

As the conventional thinking goes, when a mega-gallery sweeps in to take on an artist, that artist’s former dealers—often the ones who built their careers—get left by the wayside. But that may be changing. More and more, artists are moving up, down, and sideways while retaining relationships with galleries working at different scales. When he moved to the powerhouse Hauser & Wirth earlier this year, Henry Taylor kept his longtime connection to Blum & Poe. Nicole Eisenman did the same when she joined Hauser & Wirth while retaining ties to Anton Kern and Vielmetter Los Angeles. In another example, Adam Pendleton, still represented by Pace, expanded his reach even further this past spring when he inked a deal with David Kordansky.

“With the development of supersized galleries with multiple locations worldwide, the trend has gone in the other direction,” said Maggie Kayne, a partner at Kayne Griffin Corcoran gallery in L.A., which co-represents a number of artists including James Turrell, David Lynch, and Robert Irwin, who joined this spring after more than 50 years with Pace. She added, “In our opinion, the most effective way to work with an artist is to have strategic partners who all bring different skill sets, different connections, different networks, and different thoughts about strategy. I imagine there will be more movement in that direction.” All galleries have limits in terms of reach, Kayne said—even mega-galleries “have a very specific reach into one kind of orbit. But to be able to cross-pollinate in different orbits is the most effective way to expand an artist’s career.”

As for how artists themselves expand their careers, Tim Blum—of Blum & Poe, with locations in L.A., New York, and Tokyo—said, “the smart ones keep independent and don’t go all in with anybody.” Asked if he thinks artists have learned what kind of cards they’re holding when it comes to doing business on their own behalf, Blum said, “that’s super-clear.” And dealing with multiple dealers can put them in positions to beat the house. “Collaborations and co-operative situations are the best way to go, because a lot of people are realizing that the notion of the mega-gallery is flawed,” Blum added. “I think they’re going be more important going forward than ever.”

Lazy loaded image
Duolingo: The Phoenix Art Museum’s homepage in Spanish.

Museums Will Go Multilingual…

“Our museum brings the world to our city and our city to the world. Part of that is making sure that more people feel welcomed and accepted.” So says Nikki DeLeon Martin, chief external affairs officer at the Phoenix Art Museum, which has worked in recent years to become fully bilingual, ensuring that all its signage, wall text, catalogues, and online offerings are available in English and Spanish. Native Spanish speakers make up more than 30 percent of Phoenix’s population, and as awareness of and a desire for engagement with wider audiences continues to increase at institutions the world over, multilingual communications will only continue to grow.

The Whitney Museum has notably included Spanish wall text in its recent shows, including this year’s “Vida Americana,” an exhibition that revealed the influence of Mexican modernism on American artists. And similar practices have been prominent in the Getty Foundation’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA initiative to bring more attention to cross-cultural art in California. As DeLeon Martin said, “Museums are meant to meet people where they are. I have a feeling that there will be a lot of other institutions that will join in efforts like these—it’s important work.”

Lazy loaded image
Grand Entrance: Kent Monkman, Welcoming the Newcomers, 2019, commissioned by the Met for the museum’s Great Hall.PHOTO: ANNA-MARIE KELLEN.

…And Will Increasingly Commission Artists

Since artist Fred Wilson remixed the collection of the Maryland Historical Society for his landmark 1992 exhibition “Mining the Museum,” artists have played an increasingly prominent role in rethinking institutional collections and even creating works to aid those collections in pointed and probing ways. Painter Amy Sillman proved a star of the Museum of Modern Art’s recent reopening when she staged a standout show of MoMA holdings under the rubric of “Artist’s Choice,” and similar exhibitions have been mounted at the Guggenheim, which hosted a show that had sections curated with an artist’s eye by Carrie Mae Weems, Julie Mehretu, Jenny Holzer, and more.

And museums have recently begun to invite further collaboration with contemporary artists by commissioning new works. As part of a series of newly created commissions to keep the museum looking forward, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York tapped Kent Monkman to create enormous paintings to adorn its Great Hall with grand renderings of the artist’s gender-nonconforming alter ego Miss Chief Eagle Testickle in historical and futuristic situations. The Met also tapped Wangechi Mutu and Carol Bove to make sculptures for the niches that are part of the building’s street-facing facade.

For a recent exhibition about migration, the Minneapolis Institute of Art commissioned a new installation by the interdisciplinary arts collective Postcommodity to replace a classical Greek sculpture in its rotunda. And in a combination of a commission and an artist-curated show, Jeffrey Gibson recently paired his own work with holdings by others in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum.

As part of an “Open House” series launched last year at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Gala Porras-Kim mined the storage facilities for museum holdings that question how the institution thinks about working to keep art alive. Of enlisting help from outside for such collaborative efforts, MOCA curator Bryan Barcena said artists have a unique way of understanding the holdings of a museum as more than a mere collection of objects. “This is someone who thinks of a collection as a resource,” he said, “to find deeper bodies of knowledge and deeper, longer histories.”

Lazy loaded image
Up and Away: An image from Jon Rafman’s Tumblr 9-eyes.com.COURTESY THE ARTIST.

Net art (or net.art, as its originators tend to call it) burst onto the scene in the mid to late 1990s and had tech geeks and artists enthralled—remember “new media”?—for about five years. Then it receded. Recently, the genre has come in not only for reappraisal but resurgence. Jon Rafman recently restarted his Nine Eyes of Google Street View (a Tumblr dating back to 2008 that came to be considered one of the most important net artworks of the ’00s), and many others have followed in the service of digital work both old and new. For an online exhibition with links in Shanghai, Seoul, and New York, the artist duo Tega Brain and Sam Lavigne created Get Well Soon! to survey some 200,000 comments from GoFundMe campaigns in an effort to highlight inequities during the global pandemic. “We’re looking at it as an archive of human experience,” Brain said. And other pieces with active futures ahead of them have included Ye Funa’s interactive Dr. Corona Online, which answers health-related queries using AI, and JODI’s ICTI.ME, which replicates glitches found on social media.

Michael Connor, artistic director of the New York–based digital-art hub Rhizome, attributed the new surge of net art to a need for connectivity that only stands to intensify as more and more activities drift online. “Working online has always been a choice,” but now, he said, it is one of the most important ways “we have to access a lot of culture and community.”

Surrealism Will Continue Its Rise on the Market

Lazy loaded image
Market Climb: René Magritte, The Pleasure Principle, 1937.COURTESY SOTHEBY’S.

“Recent years have shown a rapidly ascending market for [René] Magritte,” Emmanuel Di Donna, director of New York’s Di Donna Galleries, said of an icon whose work set an auction record two years ago when The Pleasure Principle (1937) sold for $26.8 million. And “just last year,” the dealer continued, “the Magritte market saw the highest number of sold lots and record auction turnover of over $108 million, indicating a strong commitment from buyers.”

Since then, Surrealists have only continued their market climb, with artists like Magritte, Max Ernst, and Salvador Dalí seeing increasing auction figures and establishing the movement’s legacy at the forefront of global collecting.

Significant exhibitions devoted to the style—“René Magritte: The Fifth Season” at SFMOMA in 2018, “Dalí & Magritte” at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium until earlier this year—have contributed to robust investment in the secondary market for these artists and their peers. And the development coincides with expanding tastes for timeless artworks that reflect crucial modern milestones, as well as a shift in attention toward undervalued artists.

“There is now a welcome re-evaluation of some of the lesser-known artists of the movement,” Di Donna said of a rise in prices for figures such as Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo, Kay Sage, and Yves Tanguy. In line with rising attention for art on the modernist margins, Tate in England acquired the archive of British Surrealist Ithell Colquhoun last year, giving her long-deserved recognition in an art historical lineage from which she has largely been omitted.

And the past is present in other ways too, as the rise of Surrealism “mirrors a larger market trend toward a return to representational and figurative work,” Di Donna said. The movement’s oneiric aura and stark juxtapositions figure in the work of emerging artists who have seen success in the contemporary auctions, like Jonathan Gardner, Julie Curtiss, and Nicolas Party. Di Donna added, “Fascination with the subconscious, explored and developed in the art of the Surrealists, has been a major factor in the recent turn to figuration today.”

Lazy loaded image
On the Rise: Salman Toor, Four Friends, 2019.COLLECTION CHRISTIE ZHOU.

Salman Toor’s Star Will Ascend…

Salman Toor, born in Pakistan in 1983, makes figurative paintings with a focus on connections among queer men in New York and South Asia that have come to be coveted by a growing group of followers with refined eyes. His “ability to look back at art history and channel it through a contemporary lens is very appealing,” Rachael White Young, a specialist at Christie’s and a close follower of Toor’s career, said of an unassuming style that contains allusions to Old Masters as well as proto-modernists like Édouard Manet and Vincent van Gogh. (Toor’s work has not yet come on the auction block.) Proponents of figurative painting, she added, “want substance—and his work is so infused with emotional and psychological substance.”

Though a solo show that had been scheduled for the spring at the Whitney Museum was put on hold when the institution shuttered during the coronavirus crisis, it stands to be a breakout whenever it happens for an artist whose credits thus far include showings at Galerie Perrotin and Aicon Gallery in New York, Anat Ebgi in Los Angeles, and—among other international exhibitions—the 2018 Lahore Biennale and the 2016 Kochi-Muziris Biennale.

Whitney curator Christopher Lew said he has noticed growing appreciation among Toor’s “strong base of supporters and collectors” for a familiar style the artist has made his own. “He’s certainly not the only painter to be working in a figurative way at this moment,” Lew said, “but his work is so emotive and so intimate—and thinking about queer South Asian diasporas is so pertinent right now.”

…So Will Sophie Taeuber-Arp’s

Lazy loaded image

Sophie Taeuber-Arp’s face appears on the 50-franc note in Switzerland, and yet few outside the late artist’s homeland know her work as well as they do that of her husband, sculptor Hans Arp. But the fan club for the artist, who died in 1943, is growing. Artists such as Polly Apfelbaum, Haegue Yang, and Ulrike Müller have made work under her influence, and in the realm of fashion, Fendi and Duro Olowu have unveiled haute couture inspired by her playful abstractions comprising colorful shapes arranged in eye-popping patterns.

More fans of Taeuber-Arp—who was one of the leading artists in Zurich’s Dada movement, which harnessed absurdity in response to the horrors of World War I—stand to be minted when her first retrospective in the United States in 40 years opens at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and then heads to Tate Modern in London and the Kunstmuseum Basel in Switzerland. “This exhibition will definitely contribute to the initiative of trying to redress exclusionary histories,” said Anne Umland, a senior curator of painting and sculpture at MoMA who helped organize the show.

Two years ago, mega-gallery Hauser & Wirth took on representation of the estate of Hans Arp, whose work sells for upward of $5 million. But Taeuber-Arp, who just got added to the gallery’s roster, has taken longer to rise to attention. Two of her prized “Dada Heads” have sold for more than $1 million at auction, but her esteemed abstract paintings have sold at what some specialists consider good values, around $400,000. Iwan Wirth, president and cofounder of Hauser & Wirth, called Taeuber-Arp “undervalued.”

Lazy loaded image
Critical Fabulation: Saidiya Hartman in her office.COURTESY JOHN D. & CATHERINE T. MACARTHUR FOUNDATION.

Saidiya Hartman Will Be Art’s Theorist of Choice

Theorist Saidiya Hartman’s name is about to become a lot more familiar to people who follow cutting-edge art. Her writings, which offer a voice to Black women who have not made it into history, have recently been cited as influential by artists of the moment like Arthur Jafa, Ja’Tovia Gary, and Cauleen Smith.

Working in a lineage seeded in part by Fred Moten, Hortense Spillers, and Christina Sharpe—theorists who have addressed intersections of race, gender, and philosophy—Hartman makes use of what she calls “critical fabulation” in books that are hard to classify (fiction nor nonfiction? criticism or scholarship?) but easy to keep thinking about long after they’re put down.

Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women and Queer Radicals, published in 2019 and still generating aftershocks as more and more in the art world read it, calls up archival documents mined for details about the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and then expanded upon using lavish prose and semi-imagined inner dialogues from real people. Her focus is typically female-identified Black Americans who have not been given due consideration, such as A’Lelia Walker, the first self-made female millionaire in the United States, and Elinora Harris, who was arrested while fighting off her rapist and later took the name Billie Holiday.

“So much of the book is about assembly—the stakes of being together,” said Thomas J. Lax, a curator at the Museum of Modern Art who in January organized a big event attended by numerous artists and fellow curators feting Hartman at MoMA PS1 in New York. “Honoring that was the right way to celebrate.” Lax studied with Hartman as a grad student at Columbia University and calls himself her “intellectual child”—and he is hardly alone. Artists have also caught on. Simone Leigh has professed devotion to Hartman’s consideration of sound and which kinds of cultural figures get to be heard. Cameron Rowland told the crowd at PS1: “Hartman’s writings have fundamentally shaped my understanding of reparations.” Okwui Okpokwasili, who performed at PS1, said later that Hartman “articulates a way of thinking that speaks to how I make work” and added that her writing “resonates with a way of sensing our own bodies” in relation to others and the state.

Lax added a touch of tribute to the sensuousness in her writing too. “For many in the art world, beauty can seem hackneyed or clichéd,” he said. “The way that Saidiya defines, redefines, or remobilizes beauty allows for another form of representation.” And Hartman’s influence has been moving beyond America, as Lax noted: artists in Brazil and South Africa are under her sway—a sign that keeps in line, he said, with the scholar’s concept of “the chorus,” or a group of often-marginalized people who speak as one and come to shape history.

Hypebeasts Will Roar Louder

Lazy loaded image
Believe the Hype: KAWS x Medicom’s figurine Be@rbrick 1000%/Dissected Companion (Black), 2010.COURTESY ARTCURIAL.

With the boundaries between traditional collecting categories and luxury markets continuing to blur, the time is ripe for an even bigger explosion of interest in hype sales, a realm of the art market with intensifying interest in pop culture and cross-branded collectibles. As a new class of younger prospective buyers looks to invest, the auction houses have stepped up with sales featuring limited editions and offerings conceived collaboratively between artists and designers.

Items related to streetwear, urban art, and different corners of culture prevail. Last November, Christie’s—in a sale marking the first of its kind in the auction house’s history—brought in $2.1 million for lots gathered under the title “Handbags X Hype,” with a Supreme X Louis Vuitton chest going for double its low estimate at $125,000.

Parisian auction house Artcurial’s “Urban & Pop Contemporary” category has featured sales offering collaborations between artists like KAWS, Futura 2000, Damien Hirst, and Takashi Murakami, and fashion mainstays such as Chanel and Calvin Klein. An Artcurial sale in 2018 took the title “C.R.E.A.M” (an allusion to “cash rules everything around me,” a refrain popularized by the rap group Wu-Tang Clan), and more recent sales have been named “Don’t Believe the Hype” and “Outsider(s): A History of Beautiful Losers.” At Sotheby’s, a Supreme skateboard sale this past January featured skate decks decorated with imagery by the likes of George Condo, Marilyn Minter, and Damien Hirst, and items from a line of KAWS X Dior toys featured in the spring’s Hong Kong contemporary art sale online.

Such activity “speaks to the intermingling of collecting and consumer behavior today across every collecting category,” said Caitlin Donovan, a specialist with a focus on handbags and accessories at Christie’s in New York. She noted that the right kind of object can offer an intersectional value “viewed as a luxury item, piece of art, and part of pop-culture” that allows buyers to “break the traditional collector stereotype.” And as fine art categories age and pop culture expands, the legacy of iconic brands offers value from the outside—such that branded collectibles can fetch prices similar to those for refined decorative objects, Chinese bronzes, and rare gems. As Donovan puts it, “from contemporary art collectors to buyers of high fashion, the legacy of brands represents a new type of luxury—inclusive of all references from fine art to pop culture.”

Writing and reporting by Sarah Douglas, Andy Battaglia, Alex Greenberger, Maximilíano Durón, Claire Selvin, Tessa Solomon, and Angelica Villa.

A version of this article appears in the Summer 2020 issue of ARTnews, under the title “Next Big Things.”