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In the Air – Art+Auction's Gossip Column

Instagrams of the Art World: The Too Young To Fail Edition with Smith, Murillo, and Cortright

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Among the names that regularly grace the major auctions — Bacon, Koons, Richter —  next week in London, contemporary art sales at Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips will be touting works by much greener contenders, young artists some of whom have never been at auction before and others who have only been at auction once or twice. In response, there has been a lot of chatter on the internet recently about the IPO-like fervor that surrounds the auctioning of works by these young artists before they’ve had a chance to mature as artists, let alone as humans, and the potentially deleterious effect to their careers that speculating on their work can have. We’ve checked in with Instagram to see how some of these young artists, and in some cases dealers and collectors, are handling all of the attention pre-auction. Here’s what we found.

24-year-old artist Lucien Smith, who has been getting a lot of hype lately, beginning with the sale at Phillips last November for nearly $400,000 of a painting he created while still at Cooper Union, has three works coming up at auction next week in London, one each at the contemporary art evening sales at Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips (his works have only come up at auction twice before). And while we know this kind of exposure can ravage the careers of young artists before they’ve even fully matured, Smith is taking it all in stride, it seems. Here’s Smith, second from left, with artist Dan Colen, second from right, whom he used to assist. This one was posted by OHWOW Gallery, which represents Smith.

Smith even seems to be getting a kick out of critic Jerry Saltz’s Twitter slam of his work, suggesting these young artists may be more resilient than we think.

Here’s another wunderkind of the art market, Oscar Murillo (also blasted by Saltz, above), who was snapped up in September by David Zwirner gallery, which wished him a happy birthday on Instagram a few days ago. Works by the 28-year-old artist, which were selling for under $10,000 on the primary market in 2011, caused a feeding frenzy at last fall’s auctions, where they sold for $200,000-$400,000. Murillo also has works in the auctions in London next week.

Twenty-seven-year-old LA artist Petra Cortright first became known for her digital art work and was tapped for the group show in the Internet Pavilion at the 2009 Venice Biennale. Represented by LA gallery Steve Turner Contemporary, she’s been in a handful of international solo and two-person shows, and her digital paintings have been causing a stir on the secondary market.

Brazilian-born artist Christian Rosa hasn’t even had one solo gallery show. That didn’t stop collectors, we hear (and we’re talking museums and institutional private collections as well as individuals), from snatching up his work at Ibid Projects, at Art LA Contemporary, leaving a waiting list of over 100 names. Here he is, far right, partying with friends in Vienna where he lives when not in LA. Doesn’t look like he’s suffering from the hype. But then again, he is over 30 and perhaps better prepared to handle it.

Artist Parker Ito, “@Creamydreamy,” is another one in the pack of young artists being scooped up. The West Coast artist, known for his multi-media and Internet work as well as his sculptures and painting, has his first work up at auction next week: a vinyl on enamel painting entitled “The Agony and the Ecstasy” (est. £10-£15,000 or roughly $16-$25,000) at the Contemporary Art day sale at Sotheby’s London. Referring to his 2012 show by the same name at New York’s Stadium gallery, Ito, who got his BFA from California College of the Arts in 2010, said the title symbolized artistic struggle. Further elaborating, he said, “My artistic struggles are not so much about, ‘Oh, making art is really hard,’ but more like, ‘I need more money to go online shopping,’ ‘I have a crush on this girl, how do I get her attention on twitter?’ or ‘Do I look hot in this Facebook photo?!’”

Los Angeles-based collector Stefan Simchowitz, who recently told Bloomberg that “Oscar [Murillo] is a giant,” and owns 34 Murillo works, apparently took to Instagram to defend his position.

Collector and linebacker for the New York Giants Keith Rivers, who owns works by Lucien Smith and Zak Prekop (another young artist) and thinks the “best confluence between arts and sports” is Jonas Wood, is apparently getting excited for next week’s auctions.

In 1991, collector Charles Saatchi offered artist Damien Hirst, then a recent graduate of Goldsmiths College and in his mid-twenties, the opportunity to make whatever artwork he wanted. His sculpture of a shark in formaldehyde, “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living,” was featured at the Saatchi Gallery in the first YBA show in 1992. We all know how that story ends. Today, having survived the hype-mill and in fact come to dominate it, he always seems to have the last laugh. In anticipation of the contemporary art evening sales next week, he poses here with one of his Disney spot paintings, which is up for auction at Christie’s. At least the proceeds of this sale will go to benefit the charity Kids Company, an organization that provides “practical, emotional, and educational support to vulnerable inner-city children” in London, according to the Christie’s release. We’re wondering if some of the young artists becoming the next market stars might not need some practical and emotional support of their own.

— Rozalia Jovanovic (@Ruschka)

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  1. by Marc Richards

    SS, Good morning. Seems the adrenalin is off and running early. First of all, my previous post in no way was meant as a personal indictment of you or any other individual. I don’t pretend to be some critical outsider ‘bashing’ what’s going on. I am very much a participant and inside observer. I have clearly stated that I too am very much involved in this market. My comments were primarily inspired by your claim that “ culture is a commodity’ to be bought and sold.” In these recent posts you claim that we are living in ‘Remarkable Times’, and I would agree with you. That Lucien Smith exhibited for the first time less than 2 years ago and next week has 7 works in the London sales underscores that. But whether these very young artists are making ‘Remarkable’ work remains to be seen. I say it way too soon to know as serious critical commentary and curation is virtually absent from the practice of all but a few. I am old enough to know and well read enough to verify that most all periods of modern and contemporary art are defined by the work of a very few artists. You can name on one hand the ‘important’ artists that each define Abstract Expressionism, Pop, and Minimal art. What we have today with Instagram and the internet is the suggestion that an ‘important’ artist is emerging each and every week. Do you think this really possible? If it proves to be true then you win your argument on all fronts. But possibly, just possibly, what we are seeing is a run away art market that seeks new product as quickly as it is consumed. You don’t believe that cheap money and the explosive rise in all asset classes has anything to do with the ‘appreciation’ of so many young artists at one time? Oh, by the way, any new names you have for me to look at?

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