Focus on Jordan Casteel

[11 Jun 2021]

That ‘new’ artists attract a lot of attention is nothing new in itself. However, the auction prices reached by recent ‘new’ artists is definitely a new phenomenon with some finding themselves propelled to levels way beyond those of very established Contemporary artists. It may seem surprising during a period as difficult as that of the health crisis… but a thousand new creators, born after 1980, took their first step on the auction market in 2020 and works by several artists in their thirties fetched results above $500,000. Among them, Jordan Casteel has established herself as one of the great electrifying figures of ‘new African-American painting’.


Her pictorial audacity arrived on the American scene at exactly the right time.”

The young Casteel (born 1989 in Denver) received her artistic training at Yale before moving to New York. In August 2014, she had her first solo exhibition (Visible Man) at Sargent’s Daughters on the Lower East Side. In 2017, the influential art critic Jerry Saltz (New York Magazine) saluted her “profound empathy for the inner lives and consciousness of her subjects” and declared her “ready to take a rightful place on the front lines of contemporary painting”. A few months later, Forbes magazine named her among the most influential artists under the age of 30 (“30 under 30”)… and it wasn’t long before her paintings started selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Renewal of the portrait genre

Before working on a canvas, it is clear that Jordan CASTEEL observes her subjects (friends, lovers, members of his family, neighbors in her Harlem neighborhood) through a prism of empathy and love. Before working on her compositions, she photographs them in detail, sometimes accumulating more than 200 images, and then merges elements from several shots. Her pictorial audacity arrived on the American scene at the best time, in the midst of a concerted revival of the figurative portrait linked to black identity.

In effect, the traditional portrait genre was profoundly rejuvenated in 2018 by the portraits of the Obama couple by Kehinde WILEY and Amy SHERALD. It was the also the year – just before her 30th birthday – that Jordan Casteel’s work was acquired by a couple of museums (Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville and the Los Angeles MoCA ) and that she made her auction debut. And it wasn’t just any debut! Sotheby’s actually organised it by offering a just-completed canvas depicting a pair of hands holding Ronald Sanders’ Lost tribes and promised lands, a work that explores the origins of American racism. Lost Tribes (2018) quadrupled its high estimate selling for $81,250. Supported by New York’s Casey Kaplan gallery, that was the start of the young artist’s meteoric rise.


“Last May, Christie’s set a brand new record: $687,500 for the large, intimate and melancholic portrait of Jiréh.”

In March 2019 Christie’s sold her Patrick and Omari (2015) during its prestige Contemporary Art evening sale for five times its high estimate, at $394,000. A year later, her Mom reached $668,000 at Christie’s London (12 February 2020). The inflation continued in May with Christie’s setting a brand new record for her large, intimate and melancholic portrait titled Jiréh (2013) which almost doubled its low estimate.

There is a political message behind the value recognition of this committed, young, black artist. She herself sees protest as an act of the utmost importance. Jordan Casteel is part of what Tina M. Campt has defined as the “Black artistic Renaissance”, a Renaissance that is clearly artistic, social and political, but also a genuine ‘economic’ renaissance that is reshaping the art market of our time.


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