Abstract art: five names to know
Specialists Anna Touzin and Isabel Millar select five abstract artists whose reputations are on the rise, all with works coming to auction in Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Sale or First Open: Post-War and Contemporary Art Online
Winston Branch (b. 1947)
In March this year, Artsy published a feature on eight artists who had had breakout moments in recent auctions. Number two on the list was Winston Branch, a Saint Lucian-born British painter of bold, abstract canvases featuring clouds of red, yellow and blue.
Despite winning the British Prix de Rome in 1971 and a Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship in painting in 1978 — as well as having had an impressive career teaching in London, at the Slade, Chelsea Art School, Kingston School of Art and Goldsmiths — commercial success had eluded Branch until he was in his seventies. For most of his life he had no major gallery representation, and his secondary market was virtually non-existent.
That began to change after Tate purchased his 1982 work Zachary II in 2018. The museum went on to compare Branch to J.M.W. Turner and Claude Monet in its annual report, and his work now hangs in Tate Britain’s Walk Through British Art display.
In January 2020, Christie’s sold the work April Morning (early 1980s) for £5,000. In October 2021, Hibiscus in July (1982) fetched £12,500 — more than quadruple the low estimate. At the same time, ACA Galleries presented one of Branch’s abstract paintings at Frieze Masters in London with a reported six-figure asking price.
Six months later, When I Need My Father’s Eyes (1998) appeared in Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Sale, achieving £126,000 against a low estimate of £40,000 — a watershed moment for Branch’s reputation.
Brice Guilbert (b. 1979)
Brice Guilbert was born in Montpellier in the south of France and now resides in Brussels, Belgium. Between the ages of two and 14, however, he lived in the shadow of the Piton de la Fournaise volcano on the island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean.
Since around 2016, Guilbert has predominantly been making semi-abstract pictures of volcanic eruptions created with thick layers of luminous, homemade oil sticks. ‘The sticks themselves are made using a heat machine in my studio,’ he said in a recent interview. ‘So in a way I work with fire to make fire.’
Over the past two years, Guilbert has been attracting the attention of big-name galleries. In 2020, he was included in Mendes Wood DM’s show at Villa Era, a 19th-century Italian country house between Milan and Turin; and the following year he exhibited at Pace Gallery in Geneva, Siegfried Contemporary in London, Anat Ebgi in Los Angeles and ADZ in Lisbon.
For 2022, he already has an enthusiastically reviewed show under his belt, at Polina Berlin Gallery in New York, and a work in the permanent collection of Beijing’s stylish X Museum.
The upcoming sale of Fournez (2017) (above) marks Guilbert’s eagerly anticipated auction debut.
Caragh Thuring (b. 1972)
The Belgian artist Caragh Thuring creates abstract assemblages of motifs that she describes as an ‘accumulative portrait of my environment’. These images, made at her studios in east London and Argyll in Scotland, are often painted on top of custom-made tapestries that feature recreations of her earlier paintings and photographs.
Thuring graduated from Nottingham Trent University in 1995, but didn’t start exhibiting regularly until 2006. By 2012, she was gaining prominence after featuring in group shows at two of London’s most influential private galleries, the Zabludowicz Collection and Saatchi Gallery. She had also racked up solo shows at Simon Preston Gallery in New York and Thomas Dane Gallery in London.
Two years later, Thuring had her first solo show at a public space: Chisenhale Gallery in east London.
In 2017, a work by Thuring appeared in an auction of art from Mario Testino’s collection. The painting, which had been purchased from Thomas Dane Gallery, sold for £17,500, almost double its estimate. In 2019, another work with Thomas Dane Gallery provenance achieved £30,000, three times its estimate.
Thuring’s reputation has continued to grow, with her paintings appearing in shows at two more major London institutions, the Whitechapel Gallery and the Hayward Gallery. Examples of her work can also be found in the collections of Tate, the Arts Council and the British Government.
Sabine Moritz (b.1969)
Working from her studio, a former cardboard factory in Cologne, German artist Sabine Moritz creates large, gestural, abstract canvases that she says interrogate memories and the way they’re formed.
In 1988, Moritz enrolled at the Offenbach University of Art and Design, then three years later joined the Academy of Art Düsseldorf, studying under the German abstract painter — and her future husband — Gerhard Richter.
Moritz’s auction record currently stands at £52,500, the price achieved in 2015 by Aurora I (2006), which sold for more than five times its low estimate.
Since then, however, she has had two solo shows at Marian Goodman in Paris, and exhibited at Art Basel in Hong Kong and Miami Beach four times with Pilar Corrias. In 2019, she staged a solo museum show at the Kunsthalle in Rostock, Germany. Alongside this, the Tate Collection holds no fewer than 28 of her works.
The sale of Cheerful Spleen IV (2022) (above), which has been donated by the artist to raise funds for the foundation Art for Tropical Forests, marks her first appearance at an international auction house after this flurry of attention.
Susan Te Kahurangi King (b. 1951)
Susan Te Kahurangi King is the second septuagenarian to make the list, having also found late-career fame.
She was born in Te Aroha, a small town in rural New Zealand and, owing in part to her autism, stopped speaking at around the age of four. Instead, her richly patterned, brightly coloured abstract and figurative artworks became her way of communicating.
King drew prolifically until her thirties, when she suddenly stopped. She only started again in 2008, after a documentary filmmaker persuaded her to return to making art.
Within months, King had begun exhibiting at small galleries around New Zealand and Australia, and was being heralded as an important discovery by the Outsider Art collector and curator Peter Fay.
Over the following decade, her reputation spread internationally, most notably with solo shows at Andrew Edlin Gallery in New York and Marlborough Contemporary in London. Her work has also been shown at the Outsider Art Fair in Paris and New York, as well as at Art Basel Miami Beach.
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In 2016, the Susan Te Kahurangi King Fellowship programme was founded by the American Folk Art Museum, where her work is also currently on show, and she was awarded her first solo museum show at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Miami. Shortly afterwards, New York’s Museum of Modern Art acquired three of her works, further garnishing her reputation.
Untitled (above), an abstract drawing in felt-tip pen that was exhibited at Marlborough Contemporary, will be the first of King’s works ever to be offered at auction.