This summer’s hottest artists at refreshing prices
Ernie Barnes, Shara Hughes and Faith Ringgold are just a few contemporary highlights coming to Christie’s New York this July
Shara Hughes turned heads when her painting Spins from Swiss sold for a record $2,940,000 at Christie’s 21st Century Evening Sale earlier this year. Coaxed into her saturated colour palette, her subjects transform into what she refers to as ‘psychological or imagined landscapes’ — a term that owes as much to her sense of colour and form as her knowledge of art history.
These gestural compositions, as described in the New Yorker, ‘use every trick in the book to seduce, but still manage to come off as guileless visions of not-so-far-away worlds.’ In this sense, her work offers a curative escape, particularly in the post-pandemic environment.
First there were gasps, and then there were cheers when the hammer came down on Ernie Barnes’ The Sugar Shack this past May at Christie’s New York. A record for the artist, the work sold for an astonishing $15,275,000, it shattered its high estimate and ushering in a new era of demand for the artist.
Born in 1938, Barnes, a native of North Carolina, studied art at North Carolina College at Durham under a full athletic scholarship. After his graduation, he went on to have a six-year stint as a professional football player in the American Football League. Though he maintained a relative ambivalence to his career as an athlete, he recognized that his portrayal of bodies in motion owes to his first-hand experience with physical torment of the sport.
While recognized as the finest sports painter later in his life, in the early 2000s, Barnes recently has become more of a focus institutionally, gaining prominence within the wider mainstream art world and market.
Faith Ringgold is widely recognized as one of the most important American artists alive today, with her recent show Faith Ringgold: American People at the New Museum demonstrating her vanguard status in establishing a place for Black women artists in the art world. As Holland Cotter wrote of the show for the New York Times: ‘Half a century ago, a presence like hers had to fight to exist in the mainstream art world. Look around now, and you see it, not everywhere yet, but more and more. Faith Ringgold, artist-agitator-seer, can be thanked for that.’
She bridges the multidisciplinary art of the Harlem Renaissance and the politically active work being made by Black artists today. Ringgold has left an indelible mark on American culture, and she continues to inspire generations of artists as she has since the Civil Rights Era.
Lynne Drexler’s kaleidoscopic landscapes belong somewhere in between artistic movements. Born in 1928, and a student of Hans Hofmann and Robert Motherwell, she is sometimes labelled as a post-Impressionist, other times as an abstract landscape painter; but however her vision is classified, it is entirely unique. This importance is not lost on her audience, either: her painting Herbert’s Garden brought a hammer price of $1,500,000 at Christie’s in May, shattering her previous record at auction. Beyond this, her top five auction prices have all been achieved since March 2022, suggesting that her market is just beginning to take off.
Characterised by repetitive, sometimes frantic arrays of brushstrokes, her paintings are a masterclass in using colour to convey feeling, cradling the viewer in the distinctly fragmentary forms of nature.
Her works have a synesthetic quality — and indeed her inspirations come from music as well as art — as they present landscape and still life through colour as means of composing shape.
Stanley Whitney’s first retrospective is expected to appear in 2023 at the Buffalo AKG Art Museum (formerly the Albright-Knox Art Gallery). Among its central themes will be Whitney’s exploration of colour, the complex entity he has dedicated his artistic life to understanding. His 2005 painting Great Balls of Fire sold in February 2022 at Christie’s London for £1,482,000, almost tripling its high estimate.
Taking cues from Minimalism and Colour Field painting, as well as music and other threads of culture, Whitney’s process-based paintings present and juxtapose various shades in vibrant grids. Each colour, according to Whitney, inspires a distinct feeling. Presented together, as in his works, distinct colours come in contact in complex ways.
In 2019 Tschabalala Self’s painting Sapphire sold for £395,250 at Christie’s London — a record for her at auction at the time. Combining elements of painting, printmaking and bricolage, her work exists in a scission between two-dimensional abstraction and sculpture. Sapphire, comprising pieces of painted fabric quilted to form the image of a Black female figure, shows her interest in how an audience interprets the iconography of representation.
Self explores the way in which individual elements contribute to the gendering and racializing of a body. She harnesses stereotypes and cultural symbology to unearth discrepancies between perceived and actual perspectives on the body.
Having been exhibited in London, Tokyo and New York, to name just a few, Julian Opie’s unique blend of Minimalism and Pop Art has captivated audiences since he emerged in the 1980s. Originally working out of the tradition of New British Sculpture, Opie has since executed his characteristic outline-based portraits in a variety of mediums from painting, to installation, and even album art.
‘The process of reading things as simulations but knowing at the same time that they are real is quite central to my work,’ he has said. He demonstrates this in practice by continuing to reinvent himself for changing times, presenting his audience with new tools for understanding their own perception of art and the world.
H.R. Giger is best known for his iconic visual design work on Alien (1979), the Ridley Scott science fiction movie. Alien has been called the most gripping sci-fi movie ever made, and a great deal of that comes from its singular practical effects — rather than technological special effects, whose impact fades with time. Geiger’s team created the aliens using rubber suits and puppets, whose artistry holds up to this day.
Born in 1940 in Chur, Switzerland, Giger rose to fame for his ink and airbrush depictions of biomechanical creatures. His work has bridged the gap between science fiction and popular culture, as other artists have adapted it to furniture, stage decoration, album covers and tattoos.
Beyond this, his ability to depict grotesque forms with otherworldly, yet recognizably human beauty has been the key to his cultural resonance. The Tourist IX, made with his process of airbrushing, is a perfect example of this, marrying human and alien forms in a juxtaposition at once uncomfortable and entirely captivating.
Javier Calleja’s wide-eyed characters embody the fusion of a saccharine facade, with a subversive personality. Born in Málaga, Spain, Calleja began working in the 1990s in opposition to what he calls ‘the intellectualism of contemporary art.’ Preferring instead to portray characters that do no need to be explained, his paintings are buoyed by a sarcasm owing to this simplicity of expression.
Much like contemporary art heavyweights such as Yoshitomo Nara or KAWS, the lightness of being his characters possess balances the cynical against the playful, the ironic against the overt. Redhead, printed in 2014, is no exception, demonstrating the artist’s continual refinement of his characteristic style.