Artists under 40

[07 Dec 2012]


Every fortnight Artprice presents a theme-based auction ranking. This week: the 10 best auction results for artists under 40.

The auction results so far in 2012 confirm the excellent health of the art market and, more specifically, of the Contemporary art segment. So-called “safe” investments have been generating the best results at auctions, and this somewhat vague and indefinable qualification is increasingly being applied to younger artists. Indeed the category of “safe” young artists is maintaining its prices, attracting substantial investment and includes an increasing number of young artists. There are currently lots of under-40 artists generating 7-figure auction results in dollars. Nevertheless, it is worth remembering that, at age 40, Jeff KOONS had not sold a single work above $200,000 and Damien HIRST had only just crossed the million dollar threshold with his installation Something Solid beneath the Surface of all Creatures Great and Small ($1.05 million, 13 November 2003).

Which artists under 40 have generated the best auction results over recent months?

Eight artists, all aged between 33 and 40, share the Top 10 places. Asia (China, Japan and the Philippines) dominate the ranking with four places. It is followed closely by America with three places. Only one Swiss artist living in the United States, Urs Fischer, and a second from the Middle East region, Ahmed Alsoudani, are the exceptions with excellent results in first, third and eighth places. Urs Fischer is at top of this ranking with a million-dollar result, followed a few hundred thousand dollars below by the Chinese artist Cai Zhisong. Concerning the artistic media used, the best results have been generated by sculpture-installations. However, paintings dominate the ranking accounting for no less than 7 results. The 3 market places Hong Kong, New York and London were equally productive, generating three results each.

Top 10 : Artists under 40

Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Urs FISCHER $1100000 Standing (2010) 05/08/2012 (Christie’s NEW YORK NY)
2 CAI Zhisong $946200 Cloud in Venice (2011) 06/02/2012 (Poly International Auction Co.,Ltd ??)
3 Ahmed ALSOUDANI $710505 Baghdad II (2008) 02/14/2012 (Christie’s LONDON)
4 JIA Aili $708400 It’S Not Only You Who Is Pale (Tryptich) (2007) 04/02/2012 (Sotheby’s HONG KONG)
5 Tetsuya ISHIDA $694980 Prisoner (c.1999) 05/19/2012 (United Asian Auctioneers HONG KONG)
6 Wade GUYTON $650000 Untitled () 11/13/2012 (Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY)
7 Wade GUYTON $562030 Untitled (2012) 10/13/2012 (Sotheby’s LONDON)
8 Urs FISCHER $544985 Stalagmites of Love (2004) 06/26/2012 (Sotheby’s LONDON)
9 Sterling RUBY $520000 « SP 17 » (2008) 11/15/2012 (Phillips de Pury & Company NEW YORK NY)
10 Ronald VENTURA $516000 The Dive (2010) 10/07/2012 (Sotheby’s HONG KONG)


Urs FISCHER dominates this Top with two works ranked respectively in first and eighth place which brought in a total of approximately $1.6 million. The only 7-figure result in this ranking was generated by one of his famous wax installations, Standing, which fetched $1.1 million (8 May 2012 at Christie’s New York), his second best-ever result. Not so surprising for this Swiss artist who is currently the most expensive under-40 artist in the world and whose disturbing installations in unusual materials have been praised for a decade now. In addition to touring all of the world’s major events and institutions, works by Urs Fischer are presented and supported by the most influential collections. His auction debut occurred relatively recently in 2007 when his ceramic sculpture Sigh, Sigh, Sherlock! sold immediately for $10,000 at Phillips de Pury & Company in New York. Since then, some forty works have been offered at auction, including more than half at over $100,000! On 9 November 2010, at Sotheby’s New York, the price fetched ($900,000) by his first wax installation Untiltled (Candle) was a milestone and confirmed the imminent surge in his price index by multiplying his previous auction record ($119,000 for A Novel and a Novelist at Christie’s London on 1 July 2009) by no less than eight. On 11 May 2011, Christie’s New York hammered the nail even further when it signed an auction record of $6 million for his giant teddy-bear wearing a lampshade, Untiltled (Lamp Bear), making Urs Fischer the youngest artist ever to generate a result above $3 million. Since 2012, that momentum has earned him a place in the coveted Gagosian stable, with its 13 galleries spread throughout the world.

The installation Cloud in Venice by the Chinese sculptor CAI Zhisong takes second place in this ranking, $100,000 below Urs Fischer’s result for Standing. The presentation of this floating cloud at the entrance to the Chinese pavilion of the 54th Venice Biennale undoubtedly contributed to its strong result when it went on sale a few months later. After a long bidding battle in June 2012, Cloud in Venice stopped its ascension at more than $940,000, doubling its low estimate. The impressive dimensions of this floating cloud (350 x 720 x 650 cm) invite day-dreaming and allow curious souls to penetrate its core. Both poetic and original, the work also set the artist’s latest auction record. Cai Zhisong first appeared at auction on 24 October 2005 with a bronze Custom to Motherland No.1 that doubled its low estimate to fetch more than $70,000 at Sotheby’s Hong Kong. Since then, his sales results for sculptures in resin and fiberglass range between $10,000 and $100,000.

Born in Baghdad in 1976, the painter Ahmed ALSOUDANI is the sole representative of the Middle East region in this Top. He fled his country during the first Gulf War to avoid reprisals following the deliberate degradation of a poster of Saddam Hussein. Since then, he has lived and worked in New York where he has produced paintings marked by memories of the Gulf war. His works have only been available at auctions for only two years thanks to the initiative of Sotheby’s London. Consequently his works change hands mainly in London, usually fetching over $100,000. On 14 February 2012, a mixed-media work on canvas entitled Baghdad II earned him third place in this ranking with a result of $710,000 (Christie’s London).

JIA Aili (born 1979) is the youngest artist in this ranking and the second Chinese artist. This painter, based in Beijing, is considered one of the rising stars of the Chinese scene. The market certainly thinks so because out of his six works sold at auction, four of them have generated over $79,000. Indeed, on 5 April 2010 at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, Jia Aili scored a superb auction debut at more than $200,000 for his On the field of Hopes. Only present on the Asian market, his results are hammered between Beijing and Hong Kong. Recently, he signed a new auction record at Sotheby’s Hong Kong when his It’s Not Only You Who Is Pale was acquired for over $708,000.

Recognized for his surrealist paintings, the Japanese artist Tetsuya ISHIDA was accidentally killed by a train when he was only 31. After two fruitless attempts to sell his works at Christie’s London in 1998, it was only posthumously, in 2006, that the market finally rolled out the red carpet for him with a result of more than $54,000 for an acrylic on cardboard entitled Collection (Christie’s Hong Kong, 26 November). Since then, nothing by the artist has fetched less than $45,000. So far, his oil on canvas Prisoner which earns him 5th place in this Top after fetching nearly $695,000 (United Asian Auctioneers, Hong Kong), is also his latest auction record.

The autumn sales in London and New York were very positive for the American artist Wade GUYTON and produced two results in this Top. The two untitled works rank respectively 6th and 7th and are emblematic of the singular technique that underpins the artist’s reputation. A genuine star in the United States, since 2002 Wade Guyton has abandoned his paint brushes and started using an inkjet printer… to great effect. The patterns and lettering errors, runs and other defects that riddle his work generated eleven results between $250,000 and $650,000 from February 2011 to November 2012! The result in 6th place is the artist’s auction record after fetching $650,000 in New York on 13 November 2012.

Another American, Sterling RUBY, earns 9th place in this ranking with a result of $550,000 for an oil on canvas entitled SP17. Recorded at Phillips de Pury & Company in November 2012, this record result was also generated by the autumn sales of Contemporary Art. The prices of the works in her Spectrum Ripper series (hence the initials SP used to name her paintings) are clearly ascending at the moment. Of the eight results to date above the $100,000 line, six are paintings from this series. Also highly appreciated by her fans, her Monument Stalagmite sculptures sell for between $80,000 and $100,000. Since her first appearances on the secondary market in 2007, Ruby Sterling’s auction results have posted a rocket-like ascension, assisted by an extremely impressive CV. So… to acquire a work by Ruby Sterling (not one of her flagship series) one would expect to pay an average of $20,000.

In 10th place, the Philippine painter Ronald VENTURA is the fourth artist from the Asian scene. His paintings are traded only in Asia, between Hong Kong and Singapore. After an auction debut in 2007, Ronald Ventura’s price index continued to climb in 2011 reaching his current record of $900,000 with the monumental Grayground on 4 April 2011 at Sotheby’s Hong Kong. In recent months, he has signed his second best result at $516,000 for an oil on canvas entitled Dive, which earned him the last place in this ranking.

It is difficult to find a place between the Asians and the Americans who seem to have perfect mastery of the workings of the art market. With its unavoidable institutions and influential collectors, the United States is always a favorite refuge for ambitious artists. Urs Fischer and Ahmed Alsoudani have taken full advantage of its market. Whereas fifteen years ago, Jeff Koons struggled to reach $200,000, the price range for this year’s under 40 Top 10 starts at $500,000 and reaches up to $1.1 million!