In recent years the art market has taught us one thing: when demand for an artist outruns his or her supply, collectors have the opportunity to make huge amounts of money by “flipping” - the act of buying at a low price from the artist’s gallery and shortly after reselling high at auction. With numerous stories of speculators winning big bets on young artists by following this practice -or oftentimes more discreetly by selling privately through dealers and advisors- it is no surprise that the demand for these hot young artists is flying off the roofs, with waiting lists at galleries that often surpass the hundreds of collectors.
Only a few months ago in March, Sotheby’s London achieved astronomic figures in its Contemporary Art Evening Sale for works from artists such as Shara Hughes, Rachel Jones, Flora Yukhnovich or Hilary Pecis- with hammer prices doubling estimates in more than one case. And what do all these emerging artists have in common? They all tend to come from vulnerable communities, based on either gender, religion, skin colour or sexual inclinations. But also, of course, a great deal of talent and skill to paint figuratively and turn a thought provoking narrative into a compelling picture.
Look for instance at the work of Rachel Jones. This 31 year old rising star was selling big canvases for 25,000 GBP at an East London gallery only three years ago, one of which sold for half a million at auction in March. Same goes for Flora Yukhnovich, also 31, her large paintings were selling at a little-known gallery for about $40,000 each in 2018. In 2021, one of them was resold at a Sotheby’s auction for a record of $3.1 million. Another hangs in the London home of Britain’s ex finance minister, Rishi Sunak.
The heat of the market for these young sought-after artists attracts voracious demand from both the very serious art collectors and the “art flippers” from all over the world, giving rise to a race that has every art advisor and dealer on the look out of the “next big thing”, the next emerging artist to “invest in”. However, galleries are keen to avoid this: a frothy resale market can make it difficult for artists to sustain long-term careers.
Indeed, once the artist gets signed by a mega-gallery, the supply for their pieces becomes extremely restricted to a small group of committed collectors and art advisors who have established long and trustworthy relationships with the galleries. And, whilst the lucky first buyers should still be able to resell their works, galleries such as Thaddaeus Ropac or Victoria Miró will go as far as to asking the client to sign a non-resell agreement, hence preventing further speculation.
On the other side of the spectrum, the market for classics seems to be keeping healthy and blooming, proven, for instance, by the multimillion dollar sale of the Macklowe collection - a time capsule of Post-War art collecting in the second half of the 20th century. An Andy Warhol for $195million, a Rothko for $82.5 million and a Richter for $30.1 million are just a few examples of some incredible, unparalleled results achieved in 2022 by white male masters.
What does this tell us? That despite the reality that a paradigm shift in demand has occurred in favour for emerging artists; male masters like Jasper Johns, Cy Twombly or Willem de Kooning are still masters and represent an indisputably vital chapter in art history. Hence so, two paradigms can co-exist simultaneously and in tandem, complementing one another. An economically healthy, thought provoking and eye pleasing art collection is possible by mixing the two: the very established masters, with the very emerging talents, and everything in between.
Our advice is:
1- If you like an emerging artist, always try to buy primary and early on, be quick! either directly from the galleries or with the help of an art advisor (or try not to pay a dramatic premium in the secondary market years into the artists’ careers). It will be more fun and rewarding for you to see the artists develop their practice and grow in value if you acquired your piece at an early stage, and you will not be running the risk of losing a lot of money if the artist’s market drops (despite how much you like the piece!, it always hurts).
2- When acquiring contemporary & mid-career, have a close look at the artists CV and dig deep into which museums and other public collections own his or her work. Try to find out when and where will they be showing next and look at the long-run status of the artist based on both technique and narrative, then ask yourself: what movement is this artist part of? How does he or she fit into the story of art? Are they one “for the books”? i.e, will their work and career be worth a mention in art history classes?
3- When acquiring established, do your research (or have you art advisor do it for you). Find auction comparables from the same artist based on: year of creation, size and subject matter; then look at the artist’s general market and lastly at how the market for their artistic movement (I.e, Pictures Generation, Post-War German, Pop Art, etc, etc) is doing. Then figure out what type of piece you are looking for and start the hunt. There are some great opportunities at auction, but sadly you will always end up paying more than if you buy privately through a dealer or an art advisor. If your advisor is good, he or she will know where to find your dream piece, either privately or through an auction house.