The secondary market for work by the 36-year-old Romanian-born artist Adrian Ghenie got suddenly white-hot last night at Sotheby’s contemporary evening sale, when “Dr. Mengele 2” (pictured left) made in 2011 for the artist’s debut solo show at the soon-to-be-closed Haunch of Venison gallery in London, sold for a whopping £121,250 ($189,720), on an estimate of £30-40,000. It was, by a long shot, a record for the artist at auction. Before last night, the record for his work stood at $25,000, set in November 2011 (shortly after the aforementioned Haunch show opened).
This radical uptick in secondary market prices does not look unlike Jacob Kassay’s meteoric rise a few years ago, although Ghenie does have about 10 years of experience on Kassay, who had just come out of art school when his market suddenly exploded. Ghenie’s work is not as demure Kassay’s either. He paints ugly, distorted figures that often look gnawed on or blurred out — Bacon-esque, but more violent.
Ghenie was on Art+Auction’s list of the 50 most collectible contemporary artists last June. The article noted that larger works by him can sell for $100,000-200,000 on the primary market (however, the painting that sold last night was only 19 x 17 inches), and he has works in the collections of SMAK Ghent, SFMOMA, UCLA’s Hammer Museum, and L.A. MOCA. He also seems to be a favorite of French luxury goods magnate François Pinault.
Ghenie, who lives in Berlin and Romania, was recently taken on by Pace, and will have his first show there in the spring. He is himself no stranger to the workings of the art market. In 2005, he started Gallery Plan B, in Cluj, Romania with his business partern, Mihai Pop. One sale does not necessarily make a trend, but Ghenie certainly seems to be an artist to watch.
— Shane Ferro