The growing demand for young, new and diverse artists took centre stage at Phillips 20th Century & Contemporary Art and Design sale series held on 7 and 8 June 2021 in association with Poly Auction, in Hong Kong and Beijing.
TEXT: Reena Devi
IMAGES: Courtesy of Sotheby’s
By the end of 2019, it became blatantly obvious there was an increasing appetite for new and young artists such as Amoako Boafo and Loie Hollowell. This was especially visible in that year’s auctions with ultra-contemporary categories (referring to artists born after 1975) posting its highest total over the past six years: a 204% increase from the previous year.
Fast forward to 2021 and the pandemic has done little to squash this demand. In fact, the latest Phillips 20th Century & Contemporary Art and Design sale series held on 7 and 8 June 2021, in association with Poly Auction, was the most recent and blatantly obvious indicator. Their second team up with Poly Auction saw new world records being set for young artists such as Salman Toor, Jadé Fadojutimi, Hollowell and Ayako Rokkaku.
The Hong Kong-Beijing dual-location day and evening sales brought in a total of HK$701,508,560 (US$90,424,453) with auction darling Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara’s Missing in Action (2000) at HK$ 123,725,000 (US$15,948,153) and Chinese artist Liu Ye’s The Second Story (1995) at HK$13,076,000 (US$1,685,496) raking in the highest sales, followed closely by modern masterpieces such as Abstraktes Bild (940-7) (2015) by Gerhard Richter at HK$ 95,100,000 (US$12,258,390) and Pumpkin (1990) by Yayoi Kusama at HK$12,592,000 (US$1,624,368). Both days were “white glove” sales with all lots sold.
Nonetheless, it was the young artists and their works on the block that essentially stole the show, ratcheting up the mostly measured bidding into a palpable, exciting frenzy between the purpose-built auction room in JW Marriott Hong Kong, the auction room in Beijing, phone banks in both cities and online bids on the Phillips website. The auction sessions were led by Jonathan Crockett, Chairman, Asia, Phillips; and Danielle So, Associate Specialist, Head of Day Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Phillips.
The evening sale got off to a surprisingly exhilarating start with fierce bidding between the Hong Kong and Beijing rooms for Pakistan-born American artist Salman Toor’s vividly luminous painting Girl with Driver (2013). The work sold for HK$6,905,000 (US$890,055) to a phone bidder via Phillips specialist Jill Chen in Hong Kong, well above its high estimate of HK$2,200,000, breaking the artist’s previous record price set at a Sotheby’s Contemporary Art evening auction just a month ago.
Toor, who has been on a rapid ascent in the art world since his first museum solo show at the Whitney Museum of Modern Art in early 2020, exhibited the visual allegory of inequity and social absurdity typical of Pakistan urban life in his solo show at Aicon Gallery New York way back in 2013. But now the market appetite is clearly rising to meet him.
Another young artist’s work that defied estimates during the Phillips evening sale was 28-year-old Black British artist Jadé Fadojutimi’s Concealment: An essential generated by the lack of shade (2019) featuring her quintessential singular strokes in an abstract, high tension mess. The oil painting went for HK$5,670,000 (US$730,863) to a New York bidder, well above its high estimate of HK$800,000. It also doubled her previous record price of US$ 378,000 set in 2020. This progression in art market value is not surprising considering how buzzworthy the artist has become, from a Vogue UK feature in 2020, to being the youngest artist in Tate’s permanent collection.
One of the reasons for the accelerating appeal of young and new international artists and artworks is the increasing demographic of collectors below the age of 45, a phenomena with its own unique potency in Asia. Auction houses are also paying attention to this development with the recent influx of younger leadership at the helm and their popular livestreams intended for entertainment alongside online bidding. For this week’s sessions, Phillips in Hong Kong reported “unprecedented online participation” with over 800 bidders from 45 countries, double the previous season.
As part of concerted efforts to appeal to the young collector demographic, traditional auction houses are also making forays into the crypto market this year. Phillips is no exception—their recent evening sale marked the first time a major Asia auction house accepted cryptocurrency for a physical work of art, in this case, Banksy’s Laugh Now Panel A (2002).
While the buyer was given the option to pay both the hammer price and buyer’s premium using cryptocurrency, directly into the company’s wallet via cryptocurrency exchange platform Coinbase, the iconic Banksy work only sold slightly above its low estimate at HK$24,450,000 (US$3,151,605).
It is a telling sign that mere gestures of being on trend may not necessarily suffice even for the increasingly financialised art market. It is an equally telling sign that the international artists that broke records, incited high interest amongst buyers, and pushed well above their estimates, were not just those who were young, fresh and exciting, but also artists from diverse backgrounds offering substantive worldviews and perceptions through their art which were not typically seen in auction rooms of the past.
This demand for new and diverse was noted by Crockett, stating in the official press release, “We took great pride in bringing today’s most in-demand emerging artists to the auction market in Asia whilst delivering market-defining prices and setting 17 new world auction records. The records notably including those for nine female artists, led by Emily Mae Smith’s Broom Life, which soared to over 20 times its high estimate and sold for over HK$12 million (US$1.5 million).”
At this rate, it would not be surprising if the market appetite for young, new and diverse art and artists gathers even more momentum in upcoming auctions this year and beyond.