Buy, Sell, Hold: How’s the Market For Jeff Elrod and Christian Rosa?

Are these mid-career and emerging artists sure bets or dubious investments?

Welcome to Buy, Sell, Hold our weekly column where we survey the art market, crunch the numbers, and discuss which artists to buy, sell, or hold based on an analysis of a combination of data that may include artnet analytics as well as a spectrum of events such as current, recent, or upcoming exhibitions, art fairs, buzz, buying patterns within the industry, aesthetic trends, and that unquantifiable something in the air.

Hold: Jeff Elrod
Unfortunately for hopeful collectors, the time to get your hands on one of Jeff Elrod’s abstract paintings may have passed. If the furor over “Rabbit Ears,” his current show at Luhring Augustine is any indication, this artist is one not only to watch, but also to hold.

The fifteen works in Elrod’s show, his first solo show with the gallery, which runs through April 12, are a captivating set. Some combine his brilliant and messy bursts of color with his signature scrawled lines held together with Kandinsky-like balance. Others offer a slick, blurry wash of pleasant black and white gradients. As he has since the 1990s, Elrod continues to start his process at the computer, creating his motifs of lines and color fields with software like MacPaint, then transferring his creations to canvas through a meticulous application of paint and tape, as well as digital printing. Elrod began painting abstract images of computer games in the early-90s and used computers to perfect a technique he calls “frictionless drawing.”

It’s not hard to see why the 47-year-old artist has many fans, but apparently their recent enthusiasm has been unsettling. Elrod was signed to Lughring Augustine a few months after his first showing at the blue chip Chelsea gallery, the 2012 summer group show “Mix/Remix.” Since then, his work has picked up a lot of steam and demand for the paintings in his current show, which range from $50,000–95,000, was unusually high, before it even opened.

“I wasn’t surprised,” said Luhring Augustine senior director Natalia Sacasa, “but I will say I was overwhelmed by the energy at which people approached it—there was a certain intensity. People were very determined and really put a lot of pressure on the gallery to be accommodated.” There are, she says, still people looking to buy work.

His most recent auction record corroborates the excitement evidenced in the gallery. On March 7, 2014, Elrod’s painting “Backwards M” sold at Sotheby’s New York for $173,000, over eight times above its high estimate $20,000, as per the artnet Price Database.

Auction records alone, however, don’t give the full picture. Work by the Marfa-based artist has only been at auction 11 times, with the first work of his to sell being an acrylic-on-canvas work in 2012, which sold below its low estimate for $2,750, at Christie’s Interiors no less. But despite this seemingly paltry run at auction prior to the last, his work has, we hear, been trading healthfully in private on the secondary market for the past year or two.

While we may be more familiar with this kind of uproar over the work of the just-out-of-school crowd, à la Jacob Kassay or Tauba Auerbach, look closer and you’ll see that Elrod has been on a slow burn for years, picking up loads of street cred along the way. He was after all given the imprimatur of pioneering art dealer Pat Hearn back in 2000 when she staged his show “New Paintings” at her New York gallery. Art critic Roberta Smith has kept Elrod on her radar for years, calling his 2013 show at MoMA PS1 “marvelous and elucidating.” His 2012 show at the Journal Gallery in Brooklyn was also very well received.

His work is already in major public collections including those of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, and the Walker Art Center.

Though a generation ahead, his blend of digital with analog processes is oddly resonant with the works by younger “Post-Internet” artists like Travess Smalley, Artie Vierkant, and Kate Steciw, all of whose work is included in the current show “What is a Photograph” at the International Center of Photography. We might add that Elrod’s current show is wildly popular on Instagram. In light of all this, it seems that while his prices may be too high to get in on the ground floor, Jeff Elrod is a keeper.


Christian Rosa, No way out (2013).
Courtesy the artist and Ibid Projects.

Buy: Christian Rosa
The popularity of Brazilian-born artist Christian Rosa is less easy to quantify. You might even call it mystical. He has had one solo show: “The Shits and the Seven Dwarfs” at Ibid Projects in Los Angeles last summer. And he’s been in roughly 15 group shows since 2008 (including the Brucennial and a show at the Hole, both in New York in 2012). Rosa’s large canvases, which blend messy lines and colorful squiggles with clean, strong, geometric shapes against spare backgrounds, have evoked comparisons to Basquiat. While it may still be too soon to substantiate such claims, what is clear is that his solo show in August was a hit and largely thought to be the moment that collectors turned on to him.

“People started asking about his work after the LA show,” Chelsea Zaharczuk, assistant director at Ibid Projects, told artnet News during a phone conversation. Zaharczuk said that even before then, there was interest in the one single painting they brought to Frieze New York in 2013, which was sold along with a few other works they brought. She said, “everyone was stopping and asking about it.”

At Art LA Contemporary, the five works on offer, which were selling for an accessible $18,000–24,000, sold out. Buyers included a museum in Scandinavia. An additional four works sold to foundations or private collections with an affiliated exhibition space, furthering the gallery’s intent to place the works in collections where they would be shown again. Needless to say, there was a waiting list of many eager collectors. Five of Rosa’s large abstract canvases popped up during a visit to the Hort Family Collection in March. The artist’s next show, “Artland – Christian Rosa,” opens on April 15 at the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin.

Rosa is also dripping with the rare kind of cool that only seems to add to his mystique. For “Portrait of a Generation” at the Hole—one of the group shows he’s been in, which paired artists who created portraits of each other—he painted one of his friend Raymond Pettibon, and Pettibon did his. Rosa was also among the laundry list of hip artists (including Rita Ackermann, Rob Pruitt, and Jim Drain) who took part in the Austrian art collective Gelitin’s messy, days-long 2010 installation and performance “Blind Sculpture” at Greene Naftali.

As further evidence of his success, Rosa (who splits his time between Los Angeles and Vienna) has just been signed by Berlin’s Contemporary Fine Arts (CFA), a gallery which represents artists including Urs Fischer, Sarah Lucas, Thomas Houseago, and Anselm Reyle. “He was a student of one of our artists, Daniel Richter,” said Philipp Haverkampf, a director at CFA, about how he came to know Rosa, who first appeared on Haverkampf’s radar two to three years ago.

Rosa’s first show with the gallery, a selection of new, mostly large-scale paintings, will open May 2 during Gallery Weekend. Despite the interest in Rosa’s work, Haverkampf said that he would price the works at “the price range where it is,” roughly $20,000–30,000, though he says it’s too soon to say since the details of the show haven’t been finalized. As reasonable as his works still are, given the high level of interest, it doesn’t look like it will be easy to pick one up. Asked about the sudden enthusiasm in Rosa’s work, despite having only had one solo show, Haverkampf said it was due perhaps to social media. “Things are happening quickly these days.”

Rosa’s work has yet to appear at auction.

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