Five artists to invest in right now

Postwar and contemporary art specialist Isabel Millar picks five rising stars who feature in our online First Open sale this month

Mequitta Ahuja

Mequitta Ahuja (b. 1976), Generator, 2010. Oil on canvas. 83⅞ x 80 in (213.2 x 203.5 cm). Estimate: £15,000-20,000. Offered in First Open: Post-War & Contemporary Art Online, 14-28 July 2020, Online

Who? The American figurative painter Mequitta Ahuja (b. 1976) completed her MFA at the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2003 under the mentorship of Kerry James Marshall — the current holder of the record for most expensive work of art by a living African American artist. Like Marshall’s work, Ahuja’s bright and bold self-portraits examine identity in a modern, multicultural America.

She also recently told Christie’s that the Covid-19 pandemic had prompted a shift in her paintings — ‘the body made vulnerable by illness and ageing’ is a newfound source of inspiration.

In February 2020, Christie’s sold Ahuja’s 2012 Rhyme Sequence: Jingle Jangle in an online edition of First Open. Executed in a palette of rich blues and golds, the self-portrait achieved £60,000, ten times the low estimate, setting an auction world record for the artist.

Recent exhibitions: Mequitta Ahuja: Notations, Tiwani Contemporary, London, 2018; Face to Face, California African American Museum, Los Angeles, 2017; Champagne Life, Saatchi Gallery, London, 2016

You might also like: Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Tala Madani, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye

Amoako Boafo

Amoako Boafo (b. 1984), Lady with Lemon Top, 2018. Oil on paper. 39⅜ x 27⅛ in (100 x 69 cm). Estimate: £15,000-20,000. Offered in First Open: Post-War & Contemporary Art Online, 14-28 July, Online

Who? Some of the most recognisable portraits produced today are those by the 36-year-old Ghanaian-born painter Amoako Boafo (b. 1984). That’s down to the way he paints the dark skin of his subjects — who, he says, ‘celebrate their blackness’ — with the tips of his fingers. The unusual technique results in thick, wavy, tendon-like strokes of paint, and has lead to comparisons with the work of Egon Schiele.

Boafo only had his first US solo show at the beginning of 2019, but by the end of the year, the solo booth of his work at Mariane Ibrahim gallery at Art Basel Miami Beach had completely sold out. Prices reportedly ranged from $15,000 to $45,000.

The artist’s rapid rise in fortunes continued two months later, when his work appeared at auction for the first time. His painting of a woman lounging on a pool float in a lemon bathing suit fetched a staggering £675,000, against a low estimate of just £30,000.

Recent exhibitions: Xenia: Crossroads in Portrait Painting, Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York, 2020; Amoako Boafo: I See Me, Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, 2019; Amoako Boafo: 2019 Artist-in-Residence, Rubell Museum, Miami, 2019

You might also like: Kehinde Wiley, Maria Lassnig, Nina Chanel Abney

Huguette Caland

Huguette Caland (1931-2019), Fishing (From the Homage to Pubic Hair series), 1992. Watercolour and ink on card laid on wood. Each 2⅜ x 20 x ¾ in (6.2 x 51 x 2 cm). Estimate: £10,000-15,000. Offered in First Open: Post-War & Contemporary Art Online, 14-28 July, Online

Who? The Lebanese abstract painter and illustrator Huguette Caland (1931-2019), daughter of the country’s first post-independence president, died last September, just three weeks after her first British retrospective closed at Tate St. Ives.

Less than a fortnight later, Bribes de Corps (Body Parts) set a new record for her work at auction, when it sold at Christie’s for £250,000 — more than double its low estimate.

Caland’s work has been described by Vogue as ‘erotic, mysterious and determinedly feminine’, and can now be found in the permanent collections of The British Museum in London, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, among others. With prices for her line drawings and watercolours, such as Fishing (above), starting in the low thousands, they could prove a savvy investment.

Recent exhibitions: Exhibition 2: Huguette Caland, Institute of Arab and Islamic Art, New York, 2018; Made in L.A., Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, 2016; The body discovered, Arab World Institute, Paris, 2012; Huguette Caland, Tate St Ives, St Ives, 2019

You might also like: Etel Adnan, Judy Chicago, Loie Hollowell

Ida Ekblad

Ida Ekblad (b. 1980), An Alien Among Ruins, 2014. Acrylic and puff paste on linen. 77 x 55 in (180.7 x 140.2 cm). Estimate: £20,000-30,000. Offered in First Open: Post-War & Contemporary Art Online, 14-28 July, Online

Who? The auction record for the Norwegian painter, sculptor, poet and musician Ida Ekblad (b. 1980) was set at Christie’s in February this year, when her colourful, abstract canvas Untitled  sold for £81,250, almost seven times the low estimate.

The result can be partly attributed to two well-received solo shows in 2019. One was at Zürich’s Kunsthalle, and included a boutique selling shirts, albums and carpets; the other was at Mexico City’s Museo Tomayo, and featured her latest work inspired by crockery recovered from sunken Norwegian ships.

Next year Ekblad has a major solo show planned at Kunstnernes Hus in Olso, Norway’s largest gallery under the direction of artists.

Recent exhibitions: A Deep Medicine, Galerie Max Hetzler, Paris, 2020; Leda Bourgogne & Ida Ekblad, Kunstverein Braunschweig, Germany, 2018; Diary of a Madam, Kunsthaus Hamburg, Germany, 2017

You might also like: Shara Hughes, Dana Schutz, Matt Connors

Maria Farrar

Maria Farrar (b. 1988), Birthday, 2016. Oil on canvas, 60 x 48⅛ in (152.3 x 122.1 cm). Estimate: £6,000-8,000. Offered in First Open: Post-War & Contemporary Art Online, 14-28 July 2020, Online

Who? When speaking of her work, Maria Farrar (b. 1988) says her subjects seem to evolve as her brush moves, and that her distinct approach to portraiture is heavily shaped by her upbringing in the Philippines. 

Just four months ago Farrar’s Baguette (2017) sold for £56,250 — almost 30 times its low estimate — in a Christie’s online auction. That painting, which measures almost two metres in height, hung alongside the slightly smaller Birthday, above, in the Saatchi Gallery’s 2018 exhibition Known Unknowns.

Both pictures show the influence that the Asian arts of calligraphy and manga have had on Farrar, as well as the colours and textures of European artists such as Emil Nolde and Marc Chagall — whom she cites as two of her favourite painters.

Farrar only graduated from the Slade School of Art in London four years ago, but thanks to winning the Melville Nettleship Prize from University College London, the John Farthing Anatomy Prize from the University of Oxford, and a Derek Hill Foundation Scholarship for a residency at the British School at Rome — all while still a student — she has quickly become one to watch.

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Recent exhibitions: Too late to turn back now, Ota Fine Arts, Singapore, 2019; Straits, Mother’s Tankstation, Dublin, 2017; Marine, Supplement Gallery, London, 2016

You might also like: Rose WylieElla Kruglyanskaya, Cecily Brown

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