Auction houses: what is their role in the validation of art?
2022 has just come to an end and we can’t help but analyze a trend of the big auction houses, such as Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Phillips, from the past year. That trend is to hold auctions that present emerging young artists, aged between 25 and 35, alongside the most relevant and valued artists of the 20th and 21st century. The prices of such masters keep going up, and the choice to place up and coming and emerging artists alongside them seems to be a calculated move intended to, of course, bring attention to these early-career artists, but also, and probably most importantly, to raise the monetary value of their art in a way that would have been very unlikely to have happened if they had been presented in a different auction.
Anna Weyant, Summertime, 2020 – estimated between $200,000 and $300,000
and sold for $1.5 million at Christie’s on May 2022
The most interesting aspect of these new works presented at auction is not the artist’s age, but rather the work’s date of production, which is usually around 2 years before the auction.
Artists such as Amoako Boafo (Ghana, 1983), Ewa Juszkiewicz (Poland, 1984), Flora Yukhnovich (England, 1990), and Anna Weyant (Canada, 1995) are some of the artists that have been included in such a dynamic and this leads us to think of the role of the art market in the validation of an artist’s career. The hope of being in front of the most promising talents of their time, found at the beginning of their career, makes the bids close at five or six times over the estimate, reaching even as high as one or two million per artwork.
Amoako Boafo, Yellow Dress, 2018 – estimated between $250,000 and $350,000
and sold for $819,000 at Christie’s “21st Century” sale in May 2022
The most interesting phenomenon here is not how high the prices go, but how this system validates an artist’s career. Twenty or even ten years ago, artists got this kind of validation through scholar’s praises and, most importantly, museum legitimization. Curators, art historians, and art critics came first. Now the collector is the one who reigns supreme. As Oscar Wilde once put it “The cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” (Lady Windermere’s Fan).
Ewa Juszkiewicz, Portrait of a Lady– estimated between $250,000 and $350,000
and sold for $1.56 million at Christie’s “21st Century” sale in May 2022
NYT article Catch a Rising Star at the Auction House, by Jason Fargo (May 23rd, 2022)