Hot Lots: 6 Works That Upended Expectations During Last Week’s Contemporary Art Day Sales in London

The evening sales get all the attention. But in the day sales, you can see the real depth of demand for contemporary art stars.

Edgar Plans, My Little Monster Loves Balloons(2020). Image courtesy of Phillips.

Marquee evening sales may get all the eyeballs, but the day sales always deserve a second look. These workmanlike operations offer substantial insight not only into the current state of the market, but also where it’s headed—and which artists and bodies of work are attracting notice. We took a close look at the lots that popped among hundreds offered during day sales at Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips in London last week.

 

Edgar Plans, My Little Monster Loves Balloons (2020)

Auction: Phillips’s 20th century and contemporary art day sale on March 4

Estimate: £70,000 to £90,000 ($92,600 to $119,100)

Sold for: £352,800 ($466,900)

The Spanish artist—known for graffiti-inspired paintings of grim settings populated by his bright and cute cartoon “animal hero” figures—had a big week. In addition to this sale at Phillips, another 2020 work fetched £524,142 ($705,453), more than double the artist’s previous record, in the Shanghai portion of Christie’s 20th and 21st century evening sale. Much of the demand for Plans’s work is driven by Asia, where his expressive, childlike style resonates with collectors who also love Javier Calleja and Yoshitomo Nara. He is represented by Alzueta Gallery in Barcelona and Padre Gallery in New York and Moscow. Since his work first hit the block in 2020, and it has exploded in popularity, coming up for sale no fewer than 100 times. 

—Naomi Rea

Yayoi Kusama, Pumpkin [TOWSSO] (2006)

Yayoi Kusama, Pumpkin [TOWSSO] (2006). Courtesy of Christie's Images, Ltd.

Yayoi Kusama, Pumpkin [TOWSSO] (2006). Courtesy of Christie’s Images, Ltd.

Auction: Christie’s postwar and contemporary art day sale, March 2

Estimate: £200,000 to £30,000 ($267,343 to $401,015)

Sold for: £831,600 ($1.1 million)

Works by the Japanese star artist, who turns 93 later this month, continues to draw buyers, and her pumpkins are among the most popular images. This acrylic painting, measuring just 9 inches by 11 inches, is a tiny version of a much bigger canvas that fetched $8 million at Christie’s in Hong Kong in December, a new auction high for the reclusive artist. Kusama’s market has been on fire, generating $183.7 million at auction in 2021, almost 80 percent up from the previous high in 2018, according to Artnet Price Database. In 2011, the artists’s auction sales totaled just $16.4 million.

—Katya Kazakina

 

Antonia Showering, It Wasn’t To Be (2017)

Antonia Showering, It Wasn’t To Be (2017). Image courtesy of Phillips.

Antonia Showering, It Wasn’t To Be (2017). Image courtesy of Phillips.

Auction: Phillips’s 20th century and contemporary art day sale, March 4

Estimate: £10,000 to £15,000 ($13,200 to $19,800)

Sold for: £226,800 ($300,100)

Born in 1991, Antonia Showering has earned admirers for her phantasmagoric depictions of figures in amorphous settings rendered in earthy palettes of amber, green, and yellow. Bidders went bananas for this early work, completed in 2017 while she was still a student at Slade. Its final price exceed the upper estimate by more than a factor of 15. There are several reasons why the work may have popped. This was the auction debut of the British artist, whose style scratches the current itch for paintings that blend figuration and abstraction. She is also about to wrap her first exhibition with Timothy Taylor gallery in London, who started representing her in November. 

—Naomi Rea

 

ABOUDIA, Untitled (2020)

ABOUDIA, Untitled (2020). Courtesy of Christie's Images, Ltd.

ABOUDIA, Untitled (2020). Courtesy of Christie’s Images, Ltd.

Auction: Christie’s postwar and contemporary art day sale, March 2

Estimate: £20,000 to £30,000  ($26,734 to $40,101)

Sold for:  £113,400 ($151,584)

Abdoulaye Diarrassouba, who goes by just the name Aboudia, is an American-Ivorian contemporary artist based in Brooklyn. He counts big-name African art buyers Johnny Pigozzi and Charles Saatchi among his patrons. Although his work began selling at auction in 2013, things remained quiet until last year, when his brightly hued paintings generated $10.4 million at auction, according to Artnet Price Database. (For comparison, star artist Amoako Boafo’s auction sales totaled $11.6 million in 2021.) Of the 111 lots by Aboudia offered at auction, only one failed to sell and 97 percent exceeded expectations. This painting was among three offered last week in London, all of which more than doubled their high estimates.

—Katya Kazakina  

Shara Hughes, Where The Sky Ends (2018)

Shara Hughes, <I>Where The Sky Ends </I>(2018).

Shara Hughes, Where The Sky Ends (2018).

Auction: Sotheby’s modern & contemporary day auction, March 3

Estimate: £200,000 to £300,000 ($262,065 to $393,097)

Sold for: £693,000 ($908,055)

Originally exhibited by Eva Presenhuber in a 2018 solo show, Where the Sky Ends infuses a traditional seascape with abstraction and Fauvism to create a look that is particularly desirable among today’s collectors. The year before the artist’s breakout inclusion in the 2017 Whitney Biennial, Hughes’s work was selling on the primary market for around $18,000, according to the Canvas. Before long, it was commanding multiples of that at auction—and her primary prices rose correspondingly, to between $30,000 and $150,000, the Canvas reported. Those who can’t get their hands on Hughes’s sumptuous paintings from her galleries (she also joined David Kordansky last year) have continued to battle it out at auction. At Sotheby’s the Now evening sale in London last week, another work by Hughes set a record, fetching an estimate-shattering £2 million ($2.7 million).

Annie Armstrong

Issaq Ismail, Theory of Life 32 (2019)

Issaq Ismail, <I>Theory of Life 32</I> (2019).

Issaq Ismail, Theory of Life 32 (2019).

Auction: Sotheby’s modern & contemporary day auction, March 3

Estimate: £10,000 to £15,000 ($13,103 to $19,655)

Sold for: £113,400 ($148,591)

Ghanian artist Isshaq Ismail broke onto the auction scene last fall with a bang. To date, 10 of his works have hit the block. None of their high estimates exceeded $40,000; all achieved well over $100,000 each. Compared to other recently sold works, Theory of Life 32 is a more gestural and abstract. Ismail, one of several young Ghanaian artists making waves on the international scene, has shown at a number of shows organized by dynamo curator Destinee Ross-Sutton. While some might suspect his flood of paintings at auction might represent a bubble, auction houses have been careful to keep estimates low—and it shows no sign of bursting yet.

—Annie Armstrong


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