Ultra-contemporary art boom defies economic downturn at Frieze London

There were few signs of a looming global recession at the VIP opening of Frieze London yesterday, as major galleries reported a six-figure sales surge to a host of international collectors, reinforcing the impression that the newest art market – “wet painting”, as it is known, is booming.

On the Gagosian stand, a suite of seven monumental paintings produced this year by 29-year-old British abstract painter Jadé Fadojutimi was already sold out when the fair opened. The gallery declined to comment, but sources say the works cost around £500,000 each. At last year’s fair, the Pippy Houldsworth gallery (which represented Fadojutimi until July) sold a large painting by the artist for between £100,000 and £130,000.

Hot request

Another young painter leading the auction, Flora Yukhnovich, 31, was in high demand yesterday at Victoria Miro. his web, Fancy (2019), flew off the wall for around $2 million, after being sold back to the gallery by its previous owner. Primary market prices are much lower, says gallery partner and director Glenn Scott-Wright, “but if it’s secondary, it’s gotta be in that ballpark.” Yukhnovich’s auction record currently stands at $3.6 million.

The boom has nothing to do with art history, criticality or aesthetic value

Lisa Schiff, artistic advisor

Tiwani Contemporary, meanwhile, sold out its booth within the first hour. The London gallery is showing new paintings by two rising stars: Umar Rashid (prices vary between $45,000 and $75,000) and Joy Labinjo (£50,000 each).

London gallery Tiwani Contemporary sold out its Frieze stand, including works by Umar Rashid, less than an hour after opening on VIP day david owens

Ultra-contemporary boom

The sales follow a report published by Artprice last week on the results of auctions of works by artists under 40, which revealed that the market for ultra-contemporary art is booming, generating 420 million between July 2021 and June 2022, an increase of 28% over the previous year. . The average price of the first five works rose from $618,000 to $4.9 million.

Although it still represents only a small share of the overall art market (2.7%), one of the most compelling aspects of the ultra-contemporary segment is that, unlike the traditional model, it is driven by black women and artists.

According to Artprice, half of the $200.9 million hammered for ultra-contemporary art in the first half of 2022 came from ten artists, including seven women: Ayako Rokkaku, Flora Yukhnovich, Avery Singer, María Berrío, Anna Weyant, Christina Quarles and Loie Hollowell. Amoako Boafo from Ghana and Ivorian American artist Aboudia Diarrassouba also made the top ten. All the new stars are painters, most straddling figuration and abstraction.

While some say art history is being rewritten, others think galleries, auction houses and investors are cynically profiting. “It’s information arbitrage and it’s purely about money. It’s too early for any art history to be written.

More “disturbing” than the frenzy itself, Schiff says, is how galleries are raising primary market prices in response to artists’ auction prices “prematurely and at unprecedented speed and heights.” She adds: “It seems to me that it is a suicidal gesture for a young artist. There’s nowhere to go but down. What are the galleries thinking? I don’t know a single collector who buys this shit.

But they are, if the press releases are to be believed. Whether via Instagram, from galleries or – if they can’t make it on those lists – at auction, collectors (many of whom are new to the market themselves) seem to have a deep thirst for new talent.

So much so that auction houses are now devoting entire sales to “new” or “now” – and, in the case of Sotheby’s Artist’s Choice channel, selling works directly from artists’ studios (even if the profit margins on these sales are insignificant). As an anonymous marketer put it, “Today, you can’t separate the market from the studio. The auction room is inextricably linked to the gallery, itself inseparable from the workshop. And it’s all about the audience. It is this very large biomass that feeds on each other.

Sustained feeding frenzy?

The crucial question is whether the current feeding frenzy can be sustained. After all, early trading success comes with enormous pressure, and an uncontrollable secondary market can cause resentment. Earlier this week, artist Issy Wood took to Instagram to speak out against ‘scumbags’ auctioning off her artwork.

“I don’t think the current frenzy is sustainable,” says a prominent retailer. “Fireworks will dwindle for performers who are not chosen by collectors who have the power to cement reputations.”

Giles Huxley-Parlour, of the eponymous gallery, says the current trend “will not hold in the long term”. He adds, “For every flash in the pan, there’s still a very strong market for historically significant artists whose prices have been consistent and rising for decades.”

Noting how discretionary spending has fallen over the past six months, even among very wealthy collectors, Huxley-Parlor thinks the “buzz” around ultra-contemporary artists hides a “deeper malaise in the art market.” art in the broad sense”. He adds, “A lot of people are biding their time and watching what’s going to happen in the next six months.”

In tough times, top-notch art is often seen as a hedge against inflation. So, can the same be said of ultra-contemporary works? “No,” Schiff said. “I would not recommend [clients invest]. I don’t yet consider the ultra-contemporary as a safe bet.

Marc Glimcher, president and CEO of Pace Gallery, agrees, especially when prices for young artists are inflated by auction results. “Things that are hyper-inflated are not good inflation protection,” he says. “But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a real consensus around the work of some of these artists; when Picasso was in his forties, there was a real consensus around his work.

There may be a consensus, but given the way the art market
lags behind larger economic realities, warns Glimcher, “if our governments continue to act with unbridled stupidity, then we have a problem. It’s really going to start to melt away the wealth and the art market is going to feel it like everyone else.”

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