Work of the Week: Sarah Ball’s ‘Elliot’

The British artist's secondary market has been on the rise since 2022.

Sarah Ball, Elliot (2023). Courtesy of the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery.

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Marking her New York solo debut, British artist Sarah Ball is showing a suite of new works at Stephen Friedman Gallery in an exhibition called “Tilted.” Known for her explorations of contemporary dandyism, the artist draws inspiration from the 19th-century poet and playwright Oscar Wilde as well as Beau Brummell, a fashion trendsetter in Regency-era England who cultivated new standards of aesthetics and elegance for men.

Elliot, priced at $190,000, is the largest canvas in a series that challenges contemporary gender conventions. Though meticulously rendered, the portrait subject’s identity remains largely unknown thanks to their characterful clothing, hairstyle, accessories, and makeup.

Ball says that, through her explorations of dandyism, she has “come to realize that there isn’t a description—the idea is a fluid one and it can change in respect to the social, political, and cultural climate of the time.”

She adds that certain attributes seem to be a given, however: “Theatricality, creativity, style, flamboyance, individuality, and a certain degree of (non-gendered) camp.” The artist attempts to capture a bit of all of these in her constructed portraits.

Ball, 59, has seen the secondary market for her paintings take off recently—auction sales for 24 works were recorded between 2022 and 2023, according to the Artnet Price Database. Her artist record was set last March with the sale of a portrait, also titled Elliot (2020), at Phillips London, where it went for £120,650 ($144,042), a significant 51 percent above its presale estimate.

The gallery presented its first major show of Ball’s work at Frieze New York in May 2021 and her first solo exhibition in London in January 2022. A selection of drawings was presented at last year’s Art Basel Hong Kong. Ball will have a major solo exhibition at Shanghai’s Longlati Foundation in 2025.

“Sarah Ball: Titled” is on view at Stephen Friedman Gallery,54 Franklin St, New York, through March 23, 2024.

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