A Buyer’s Guide to the 2022 Whitney Biennial, From a Turner Prize Nominee to an Unrepresented Provocateur
We reveal their prices and most coveted works.
The Whitney Biennial opened to the public last week, a week after art world luminaries had already flocked to its VIP pre-opening, and decided amongst themselves which up-and-coming artists to set their sights on adding to their collections in 2022.
The biennial in recent years has been marked by scandal and protest but this year’s edition—perhaps in keeping with the exhibition’s title “Quiet as It’s Kept”—has yet to ignite the furor familiar from years’ past. But one thing will never change: collectors flocked to the event to discover talents who, helped along by the star-making power of the prestigious exhibition, are set to become big names on the art market.
We identified five artists who are gathering buzz at the biennial.
Buck Ellison (b. 1987)
Gallery affiliation: No gallery representation.
What to know: The San Francisco-born, Los Angeles-based artist draws from the language of ubiquitous advertizing imagery and stock photography as the basis for his detailed compositions—staged photographs and video works—that interrogate the imagery of white American affluence. From afar his large-scale pieces could be mistaken as glorifying their subjects with the grandeur of Old Master portraiture, but a closer look turns up telling details that show these works as a criticism of white privilege and the mechanisms and social mores that keep its in place. A lot of research, casting, choreography, and set design goes into the artist’s work—and, for that reason, he hasn’t made a lot.
Ellison’s work in the biennial depicts Erik Prince, the ex-Navy SEAL and founder of private military company Blackwater—which offers mercenaries for hire—on a ranch in Wyoming in 2003. The work is a daring one to show at the Whitney under board vice chair Pamella DeVos: Erik Prince is the younger brother of DeVos’s sister-in-law, former education secretary Betsy DeVos.
Most wanted: Ellison’s prices are fairly modest for the scale and complexity of his works, and so all of his projects have sold well.
Price points: Ellison’s current series consists of seven images in editions of five, which are priced at $22,000 per print or film.
Up next: Ellison’s work is on view at the Lyon Biennale, “Manifesto of Fragility,” September 14 through December 31.
Sable Elyse Smith (b. 1986)
Gallery affiliation: JTT, New York; Carlos/Ishikawa, London; Regen Projects, Los Angeles
What to know: JTT founder Jasmin Tsou described Smith as “a poet working with language, memory, and time as mediums to make the violence of carceral capitalism visible.” Aside from the text-on-page poetry infusing her artist books, websites, and exhibition catalogues, her prowess with rhythm and composition also plays a sly role in more maximalist pieces like those included in the Whitney Biennial. LAUGH TRACK, OR WHO’S THAT PEEKING IN MY WINDOW (2021) is a video comprised of footage from reality TV police procedural “Live P.D.” (a successor to the infamous “Cops”), edited to “follow the known verse or stanza structures in more academic forms of poetry,” Tsou said; A CLOCKWORK (2021) is a gallery-sized Ferris wheel constructed from furniture used in prison visiting rooms whose slow, endless churn taps out an ominous meter in three dimensions.
Most wanted: Tsou said that she and Smith’s other dealers are “fortunate that collectors and institutions are interested in a wide range of her practice.” This February, a virtual booth of the artist’s “Coloring Book” paintings, which riff on pages reproduced from activity books made for children thrust into contact with the U.S. penal system, sold out on opening day of Art Basel’s “OVR: 2021.”
Price points: Up to $100,000 depending on the body of work in question. (The eight “Coloring Book” works in the aforementioned OVR ranged from $35,000 for single-panel pieces to $50,000 for diptychs.)
Up next: Smith will feature in Cecelia Alemani’s Venice Biennale presentation starting in just a few weeks. She will also have solo shows at JTT this September, and at Regen Projects in 2023. Work from her “Coloring Book” series will appear in the group exhibition “To Begin Again: Artists and Childhood” at the ICA Boston in October 2023.
Rick Lowe (b. 1961)
Gallery affiliation: Gagosian Gallery
What to know: Lowe’s early career focused heavily on painting, but he says he quickly rebelled against the medium in the way it was taught to him, and that he wasn’t comfortable with how “painting functioned in the art world.” He then turned to social practice and in 1993 co-founded Project Row Houses in Houston’s Third Ward, alongside fellow artists James Bettison, Bert Long, Jr., Jesse Lott, Floyd Newsum, Bert Samples, George Smith, and other locals, establishing a cultural district in a block and a half of derelict houses.
The title of the above work references a point early on in Lowe’s career when a teenager on a studio visit asked a pointed question: “if artists are creative, why can’t they create solutions?” The artist uses the game of dominoes as the basis for his paintings, photographing and then tracing the patterns made by the games. He says he finds playing dominoes to be “an incredibly spiritual and educational experience.”
Most wanted: All works on canvas.
Price points: $65,000 to $125,000 on the primary market and rising. A source familiar with the market cited prices upwards of $300,000 on the secondary market.
Up next: Lowe will have his first solo show with Gagosian in September.
Veronica Ryan (b. 1956)
Gallery affiliation: Paula Cooper, New York
What to know: Born in the Caribbean island of Montserrat, a British territory, Ryan uses fabricated and found materials to examine themes of migration, history, identity, and belonging. Her meticulously handcrafted works are usually composed of materials that reference her Afro-Caribbean heritage and upbringing in the U.K. Last year, Ryan was commissioned to create a permanent sculpture in the East London borough of Hackney to celebrate migrant workers, known as the Windrush Generation, who flocked to the U.K. from the Caribbean. The works depict three larger-than-life Caribbean fruits and vegetables: Custard Apple (Annonaceae), Breadfruit (Moraceae), and Soursop (Annonaceae) (2021). The artist was just shortlisted for the prestigious Turner Prize.
Most wanted: “Her works have been embraced in totality,” from the intimate to large-scale, according to a Paula Cooper Gallery representative.
Price points: $6,000 for a small bundle sculpture to $100,000 for a large bronze sculpture.
Up next: Ryan’s solo show “Along a Spectrum” at Paula Cooper in Chelsea runs through May 28, with works alluding to her heritage via materials that include fishing lines, rolled and stretched blankets, nets, and nuts. Another solo show will follow in the fall at Alison Jacques gallery in London, coinciding with a group show of the four shortlisted Turner Prize artists at Tate Liverpool, starting on October 20.
Aria Dean (b. 1993)
Gallery affiliation: Greene Naftali, Château Shatto
What to know: A consummate multi-hyphenate, Aria Dean is a writer, sculptor, curator, theatre producer, and occasional Eckhaus Latta model. She’s most known for her cerebral, 3D-printed silicone sculptures, which she calls “impossible objects,” alluding to their ability to challenge IRL perception of an object through manipulation that occurs by digital techniques. Her piece at the Whitney uses the collision and collapse sequences in 3D modeling to create a silicone structure that looks punched in the gut. Dean also works in film. Her video installation at 2020’s edition of the Hammer Museum’s “Made in L.A.” biennial solidified the 29-year-old Brooklynite as one to watch.
Most Wanted: Dean’s sculptures have been exhibited in New York twice this year leading up to the biennial, once in January at Greene Naftali, and again at the White Columns annual, which was curated by Mary Manning.
Price Points: The gallery declined to specify prices, but according to an advisor, her work was selling for between $20,000 to $30,000 at Frieze Los Angeles.
Up Next: Chateau Shatto will bring a solo booth of her work to Art Basel in Switzerland, and in May. She’ll also be participating in a symposium in Paris held by the Sorbonne, Columbia University, and the Centre Pompidou, titled “Reshaping our Digital Interactions: Subjectivity in the Post-Cinema Age.” This fall, CAPC Musee d’art Contemporain de Bordeaux will host her next institutional exhibition.
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