Market Snapshot: Paul Jenkins

Collectors seeking splashy abstraction get big bang for their buck in Paul Jenkins.

Paul Jenkins
American, 1923–2012
Galerie Iris Wazzau

According to dealer Iris Wazzau, the simple recipe of “good quality for little money” is what attracts collectors to the work of Paul Jenkins, a latter-day Abstract Expressionist known for his exuberant, multicolored compositions of poured paint. Counted among the “second-generation” Abstract Expressionists, the late artist’s work sells for a song compared to his contemporaries Sam Francis, Michael Goldberg, and Morris Louis.

While quality and price are certainly important, size also matters; and, in Jenkins’s market, bigger is usually better. All but one of Jenkins’s top 10 lots are human-scale or larger. The monolithic 93 x 78-inch multicolored abstraction Phenomena Prism Emissary (1985), set the artist’s auction record when it sold at Christie’s in 2010 for $92,500 (including Buyer’s Premium), several times the $20,000 high estimate.

Jenkins, who split his time between New York and the South of France, is better known and more widely shown in Europe, where audiences have been more receptive to his particular brand of romantic abstraction. In a 2009 review of his show at D. Wigmore Fine Art, New York Times critic Roberta Smith called his paintings “too gorgeous for their own good.”

Wazzau said she anticipates that Jenkins’s work, long undervalued compared to his contemporaries’, will appreciate in years to come, “providing,” she added, “that big-name galleries will restart exhibiting him.”

Tellingly, 19 of Jenkins’s top 20 sales took place in or after 2008. Moreover, a spate of significant auction sales this year, such as the $64,133 sale of Phenomena Saint Paul Rain King at Christie’s Paris this June, suggests mounting interest his work. Nevertheless, Wazzau is wary of speculating on the future of Jenkins’s market. “If I knew this,” she quipped, “I wouldn’t sell art, but earn my living as a ‘future-teller.'”

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