5 artists under 30 – Chapter 2: United States

[24 Jun 2014]


Pursuing our world tour of hot young artists, here is an overview of the US auction market’s five most successful artists under 30 since January 2013. We note that the top-5 young Americans are all male and that the selection reflects two centers of creative activity: New York of course, but also Los Angeles, where Lucien Smith was born and where Parker Ito, Louis Einser and Sam Falls spend much of their time.

Lucien SMITH (b. 1989)
Born in L.A. but settled in New York, Lucien SMITH is at the top of this ranking despite his tender age (only 25). After a career of just two years he is already a favorite signature for investors in Contemporary art and is supported by some of the biggest collectors and dealers in the world like David Zwirner (whose daughter, Marlene, is a good friend) and Alberto Mugrabi. Like Dan Colen, Lucien Smith has attracted a great deal of media attention and despite his youthful age and his skateboarder looks, he is concerned about the conservation and longevity of his work.
From incoherent messages on postcards that sell for $4,000 (excl. fees) to large paintings that have fetched not very far from $400,000, Lucien Smith’s work has triggered serious speculation has received much attention since his auction debut in November 2013 when Phillips sold a canvas entitled Hobbes, The Rain Man, and My Friend Barney / Under the Sycamore Tree at double its high estimate. The work was created in 2011 while Smith was still an art student at Cooper Union. Three days later, Sotheby’s sold a 61cm canvas for $100,000 (incl. fees), i.e. four times the high estimate. Since then, London and New York have been gleefully offering his works at public sales with no less than 23 offered between January and June 2014. Buyers are already taking a substantial risk because such rapid inflation has been known to unwind, with potentially adverse consequences on the career of a young artist who has not yet reached full maturity.

Jacob KASSAY (b. 1984)
Jacob KASSAY was already, in 2011, the hottest under-30 artist at auction in the world. At the time, he was the only artist in that age group with a 6-figure auction result to his name: $240,000, three times its high estimate, for Untitled 2009 (May 12, 2011, Phillips de Pury & Company). Since the recent auction performances of Lucien Smith and Louis Eisner, Kassay is clearly no longer the undisputed leader of the under-30’s in terms of public prices; but judging by Kassay’s recent (November 11, 2013) new auction record of $260,000 ($317,000 including fees) at Phillips, his prices have remained stable. The work in question was one of his silvered monochromes, made using an industrial and chemical electro-galvanizing process. Demand for his work is strong and auction houses consider his work as contributing to the success of their Contemporary art sales. Of the 51 canvases offered in public sales since 2011, 47 have sold.

Parker ITO (b. 1986)
The West Coast artist, known for his multi-media work and for his sculptures and paintings has only recently hit the auction market. The first test was in February 2014 at Sotheby’s London with a painting on vinyl entitled The Agony and the Ecstasy. The work tripled its high estimate fetching a hammer price of £45,000 ($74,000 excluding fees and nearly $93,000 including fees). Parker Ito lives in New York and Los Angeles and is invited to participate in exhibitions all over the world.

Louis EISNER (b. 1988)
The prodigal son of the photographer Lisa Eisner, Louis is already more famous than his mother. After studying in California, he moved to New York in 2006 and obtained an internship at Sotheby’s where he learnt art history and the workings of the art market. The following year, Louis pursued his art studies at Columbia University before returning to Los Angeles where his career began to gel with a dual role as curator and artist. He actively participated in the Still House Group, a group of young artists, formed in 2008, that produces its own shows. Two public sales were enough to project Louis Eisner into the limelight of the young American art scene: the first work was a canvas entitled Marshall Head (Void) that fetched $110,000 on May 12, 2014 at Christie’s, and the second was a drawing (Knucklehead 98098-9 XXXXXXX) that sold for $42,500 on May 15, 2014 at Sotheby’s. Naturally, both prices were substantially beyond their pre-sale estimates.

Sam FALLS (b. 1984)
With an acute interest in the development of a body of work subject to natural phenomena such as light, rain or wind, Sam FALLS looks very much from a Conceptual art / Land art lineage. In effect, his works are formed and transformed over time which is an essential component of a sublime deterioration and the more-or-less controlled evolution of materials ranging from steel to fabrics. Nearly 30, Sam Falls has several strings to his bow: artist, writer, but also videographer and curator; he is supported by two galleries in L.A., one in New York, another in London and another in Switzerland. Offered at auction for the first time in November 2013 by the talent-spotting auction house Phillips, his Untitled (Building Blocks, Topanga, CA, Light Blue 1) generated a result of $17,000 ($21,250 incl. fees). Three months later (February 11, 2014), a smaller work (Untitled (Val Verde, Blue) sold for $4,000 more ($ 21,000 excl. costs) at Phillips in London.