Artists to Watch in 2010
What does 2010 have in store for the art market? Well, it's starting to look like this is the year the market will finally (begin to) recover, though there could be some trepidation at points. Better pieces are coming under the gavel, and serious collectors are interested in artists with real track records. As things loosen up, emerging artists and those just past that stage (think Ben Krell for the former and Nelson Diaz for the latter) will start to see better conditions, as the logjam in the auction houses, once broken, should ease the pressure on galleries and also lead to some progress in private sales. Basically, the return of liquidity to the art market will be better for everyone.
This year, some artists won't enjoy as much of the recovery (if it happens ... just to hedge our bets) as others. Their prices were run up too quickly, making the subsequent fall severe. These artists, auction darlings who don't have the history or potency of a Lucian Freud or even a Richard Prince. Yet, they shot out of the emerging artist category years ago. In 2010, these artists, including Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, will occupy something of a purgatory, as the art market resets values through upward bidding, now that the decks have been washed clean.
Jean-Michel Basquiat: The end of 2009 was tough on Basquiat collectors, as "Brother Sausage" failed to find a buyer. But, the high presale estimate indicated that it was worth taking a risk. The fact that a Basquiat benefited from a hefty presale estimate last year means the market is probably getting ready to turn. Let's wait to see what happens in London next month, however, before declaring victory.
Lucian Freud: He's the fuse that was lit for the February auctions, with five lots at Sotheby's -- one of which is pegged at north of $5 million (low-end estimate!). A strong showing could lead to something of an art market rally and could rally collectors to buy up other intellectual disciples of Francis Bacon.
Banksy: The anonymous graffiti artist suffered some price declines from 2008 to 2009 (didn't everyone?). After two sales that pushed past the seven-figure mark, auction results for Banksy took a dive, with the best outcome last year $320,000 for "Insane clown" (by Phillips de Pury). The piece was a resale and represented an $80,000 loss from its last auction appearance, which was only in 2008. Since the prices didn't shoot into orbit for this artist, don't expect a recovery to take as long as for someone like Hirst or Koons.
Damien Hirst: If you bought his work before 2004, you're still in the black. Otherwise, you may have to divide by a number as high as 14 to gauge your losses. After Hirst engineered a lucrative auction for himself in September 2008, barely beating the art market's precipitous decline, he watched his collectors suffer. His buyers will spend the next decade trying to get their money back, and they'd be wise to take that time to diversify.
Jeff Koons: Koons collectors just watched their artwork lose two-thirds of its value, and like Hirst collectors, it's likely to take a decade for them to see a price recovery.
And, let's not forget about ...
China: Since 2006, China has been making noise, when Zhang Xiaogang unseated Basquiat at the top of the living artist auction pile. Last year, Chinese collectors may not have carried the global art market, but their contributions were both substantial and likely largely responsible for making a 2010 recovery (well, start of a recovery) a real possibility. Watch Minjun Yue and Yifei Chen, as well as Zhang.