How to build a sustainable artistic career? We take a look at case studies of two-star artists



This story originally appeared in the artnet Intelligence Report, a new art market report created by artnet News and the artnet Price Database.

How does an artist build a stable and lasting career after a start of intense auction success? Two talents from different artistic generations, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, 35, and Cecily Brown, 49, offer complementary case studies. Over the past few years, Crosby has quickly become a real celebrity in the art market. Likewise, Brown rose to prominence as a young painter and now proves that it is possible not only to survive, but also to thrive mid-career.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby 2017 MacArthur Fellow, pictured in his studio in Los Angeles, CA, Wednesday, September 13, 2017. Photo: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby: The Rising Star

Burst onto the scene

A look back at Art Basel Miami Beach in December 2014. London gallery Victoria Miro presented for the first time large and striking works by a young painter she had recently signed. Demand was instantaneous: five institutions vied for a 1960s-style interior that ultimately sold to the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town for nearly $ 50,000. “We’ve never had such an immediate response to a new artist,” gallery director Glenn Scott-Wright said at the time. Barely 10 years earlier, the Nigerian-born, Los Angeles-based artist had wanted to pursue a career in medicine; she only turned to art after failing to enter her prime medical school.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, installation view of Before Now After (Mum, Mum and Mum) (2015). Whitney Museum of American Art. Courtesy of the artist and Victoria Miro, London. Photo: Ron Amstutz.

A new perspective

Crosby, who first caught the attention of taste-makers during a residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 2012, produces lavish, layered, and often large-scale works – almost always on paper, his medium of choice – which are unabashedly autobiographical. She frequently combines references to Nigeria, where she was born, with references to America, where she lives. Its aesthetic is immediately recognizable, distinguished by its innovative transfer and collage technique and confident use of color. Upon her debut at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2014, her content-rich and intricate paintings felt (as they have continued to feel since) a refreshing response to the innocuous and forgettable abstraction known as of Zombie Formalism which was then in vogue.

© 2018 artnet Intelligence Report.

Moment of escape

Crosby’s work gained the attention of the general public in 2015, when the Whitney Museum of American Art commissioned Before Now After (Mum, Mum and Mum), a portrait of three generations of women in her family, for a billboard visible from the High Line in New York City, one of the busiest parks in the world. (The following March, the museum buys its 2016 diptych Portals at the Armory Show for its collection.)

A rapid rise

In 2016, the demand for Crosby’s work clearly exceeded the supply. She only produces a few works each year, and there just weren’t enough for everyone. Collectors’ frustration with their inability to acquire Crosby’s work on the primary market resulted in an auction frenzy a few months later. Sotheby’s tested the water by placing an untitled work on paper from 2011 in its Contemporary Curated sale in September. The coin exceeded its estimate of $ 18,000 to $ 25,000 to sell for $ 93,750.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Bush babies (2017). Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Enter Prime Territory

In November 2016, confident in demand, Sotheby’s placed Walnut (2012), a tender rendition of Crosby and her husband lying in the embrace, as the first batch of her evening sale. Estimated between $ 200,000 and $ 300,000, the work was continued by six bidders for a record amount of $ 1.1 million. Since that sale, Crosby’s auction record has been broken several times. Walnut is now just the sixth most expensive work sold by the artist, who won a MacArthur “Genius Grant” in 2017. His current record is $ 3.4 million, set by Bush babies (2017) in May at Sotheby’s. Interestingly, this lush collage of foliage is both smaller and less figurative than one would expect from Crosby, suggesting how deep the desire to own his work is.

Cecily Brown at the FLAG Art Foundation. Photo: Clint Spaulding, © Patrick McMullan.

Cecily Brown: Defying the Mid-Career Doldrums

For young artists like Crosby, the next challenge is to build a market that is not only strong but sustainable over the next 50 years. These artists could do worse than observe the trajectory of Cecily Brown, a classic example of an artist who hit the headlines early on but managed to build a lasting career. Now, with new work and a reinvigorated collector base, Brown is operating at the height of his powers.

Take the plunge

Brown left London at the height of the Young British Artist Boom (YBA), in 1994, after winning a plane ticket to New York as second prize in a British art competition. A non-ironic painter, she immediately felt at home in America, where art was taken more seriously and the environment more serious.

Cecily Brown, The girl who had it all (1998). Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

A star of original art

Brown caused a stir in early 2000s New York, appearing on leading TV shows and signing with mega gallery Gagosian. The sums made by his paintings – romantic, large and sexy works that vibrate between abstraction and figuration – have soared in the six figures. “I can be proud to be one of the few women to demand high prices,” she told the Financial Time.

Take risks

Eager to find new contexts for her work, Brown left Gagosian, cordially by all, in 2015. She has since exhibited with various smaller galleries: Michele Maccarone in New York, Thomas Dane Gallery in London and Paula Cooper At New York. . The latter, in particular, has worked to strengthen her notoriety, showing the extent of her talent and aspirations.

Cecily Brown, Suddenly Last Summer (1999). Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

A mid-career boost

The market has noticed: demand for Brown’s paintings has exploded over the past year. Five of its top 10 auction results came in 2018, including the record $ 6.8 million sale of Suddenly last summer (1999) at Sotheby’s in New York, where six bidders pushed the work well above its high estimate of $ 2.5 million. The following month, at Sotheby’s in London, The skin of our teeth (1999) became his second most expensive publicly sold work: it grossed £ 3million ($ 3.98million), more than double its high estimate of £ 950,000 ($ 1.2million). ).

© 2018 artnet Intelligence Report.

Maturing market

With a total of $ 19.7 million in sales, Brown ranked 10th on our list of top-selling contemporary artists for the first half of 2018. But perhaps more importantly, the range of solid results at through the prices and dates suggests a real depth of interest. Many New York Day sales in May exceeded presale expectations, including Girl probleme (1999), which grossed $ 1.8 million (estimated at $ 700,000 to $ 1 million) at Christie’s, and Madrepora (alluvial) (2017), who earned $ 131,250 (est. $ 60,000 to $ 80,000) at Sotheby’s. Brown once said that it took her until her mid-30s to feel like she had mastered her medium and could handle paint however she wanted. Now resolutely mid-career, she is more confident and the pleasure she experiences in painting is evident.

This story originally appeared in the Artnet Intelligence report, a new type of art market report created by artnet News and the artnet Price Database. The full report contains even more juicy details on the top-grossing artists, the biggest myths in the Chinese art market, and a detailed breakdown of how the market performed in 2018.

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