When it comes to collecting fine art in 2020, tastes have changed drastically from thirty years ago. Previously, the market had been dominated by traditional subject matters which fell into the “Hierarchy of Paintings” first established by the French Academy in 1669. This ranked paintings by subject in relation to desirability in the following order: History painting, portraiture, genre painting, landscape painting, and lastly still life painting. Premiere evening and daytime auctions commonly featured Old Master’s, colonial American art, Hudson River School, and Dutch Painting amongst other things. Now, don't get me wrong, back in 1990, modern and contemporary art auctions were happening, but the market was nothing like it is today.
Here are our Top Picks from the upcoming auction with some useful collector tips:
Lot 10: Eddie Martinez, Double-Stack Blockhead Painting
As a collector in today’s art world, saying you own an Eddie Martinez will make heads spin faster than doing a doughnut in a Ferrari at 200mph. The Brooklyn based artist has had a momentous 18 months in the auction scene with a top result of just over $2 million a year ago on November 23, 2019, followed by a second million-dollar painting on July 10, 2020. Outside the monetary aspect, his career has landed him several solo museum exhibitions including the Yuz Museum, Shanghai (2019-2020), Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit (2019), and The Bronx Museum (2018) amongst others. In recent news, the artist joined the roster of Blum & Poe with a solo exhibition planned for their Los Angeles space in 2021. The point is, with a career foundation of actively exhibiting over 15 years with institutional support, Eddie’s work is here to stay with only an even brighter future ahead. This featured canvas is an exceptional example of his work showcasing multiple styles and techniques from throughout his career contained in his iconic Blockhead image. It is truly a masterpiece!
16: Ben Enwonwu, Modernist Painting of Afi Ekong
Modern and contemporary African art has been a leading category internationally throughout fine art auctions with records being continually set and broken. Ben Enwonwu is the epitome of that statement. In 1949, TIME magazine declared him “Africa’s Greatest Artist” even before becoming the first African artist to complete a portrait of a European Monarch with his sculpture of a young, seated Queen Elizabeth II. Outside of the retinal pleasures of his work Enwonwu was a leading figure and voice behind the break from colonialism in Nigeria. His market record was set earlier this year for $1.6 million after experiencing an accelerated growth over the past two years. This new to the market painting depicts Constance “Afi” Ekong (1930-2009), noted Nigerian female artist and advocate for the arts and development of a free Nigeria. The painting was acquired from the estate of Adelaide M. Cromwell (1919-2019), Harvard Ph.D. graduate and Boston University professor who founded their African Studies center in 1959. The combination of artist, subject matter, and provenance makes this a true piece of African art history.
Lot 9, Josh Sperling x Sam Friedman, Squiggle Painting
Within the realm of contemporary art, street art has been at the forefront of the marketplace ever since the record setting (now broken) Sotheby’s (AUCTION) RED sale in 2008 featuring works by Banksy, Damien Hirst, and Takashi Murakami amongst other artists. Fast forward to present day, collectors cannot get enough urban art. Alongside Banksy at the top of the market is American artist Brian Donnelly, better known as KAWS. Known for his Companion character and limited-edition vinyl sculpture, the artist has brought designer toys to the fine art stage along with regularly occurring 6, 7, and 8 figure results for his original paintings and sculpture. Throughout his career KAWS has trained and mentored several artists who have worked through his studio, and Josh Sperling and Sam Friedman are two who have risen to the top in their own right. Josh Sperling is noted for his whimsically shaped canvases with bold color while Sam Friedman is noted for his precision and variety of color in his delicately executed paintings. This squiggle is from a collaborative exhibition at Library Street Collective, Detroit (2018) in which both artists were celebrated for their unique abilities while honoring their shared past in working for KAWS. It was the only collaborative show with the two artists to date. This is truly a unique work for any collector with only one other example ever appearing at public auction of the 32 works from the exhibition.
Lot 7, Paul Insect, Blind Views Acrylic on Canvas Painting
Paul Insect has been an early contributor to the urban and street art scene since his 2007 solo exhibition at Lazarides Gallery, London. At the time, Damien Hirst was so infatuated with Insect’s work that prior to the opening he purchased the entire show for his collection. Through his career, and also being an English artist, Insect has worked alongside Banksy first at The Can Festival (2008) and then the separation wall in Palestine. While today Insect’s work is exhibited internationally and found more in galleries and art fairs then on the streets, he still creates public work for the masses. He recently teamed up with Block London, a contemporary furniture manufacturer in installing rainbow colored benches throughout London, to honor healthcare workers during the pandemic. For contemporary art collectors Paul Insect has become a staple name to include in your collection.
Lot 11, Wes Lang, Bad Medicine Sensationalist Painting
For many contemporary art collectors, Wes Lang’s work has been rather illusive. It's rarely seen at auction and trying to buy one from a gallery is harder than removing the Sword of Excalibur. That's my corny analogy for saying the good ole gallery line, “I’m sorry but nothing is available” or “there's a rather large wait list." Lang first gained international notoriety for his collaborative work with Kanye West on his 2013 “Yeezus” tour designing artwork for branding and merchandise. His style has been compared to that of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Cy Twombly for his frenetic technique. Bad Medicine embodies the aesthetic of his career in creating sensationalist, sometimes controversial imagery to show the cultural negativity within the history of life.
Travis Landry is the Director of Pop Culture and Auctioneer for Bruneau & Co. Auctioneers of Cranston, Rhode Island. He is also an expert appraiser on PBS' Antiques Roadshow in Collectibles and Toys & Games.