Christies, February 20, 2020

A selection of artists whose burgeoning art-world profiles are matched by their rising markets — featuring works offered in our Post-War to Present auction in New York

Nathaniel Mary Quinn

Who? Known for his collage-style composite portraits, Nathaniel Mary Quinn (b. 1977) grew up on the South Side of Chicago. His provocative images of mostly African American subjects have gained greater attention in recent years, with his work now in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Hammer Museum. Quinn has categorised his snappy, vortex-like portraiture as ‘Luminism.’

Recent exhibitions: His first solo museum exhibition, This Is Life, took place at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (December 2018 to March 2019). The artist then announced representation by Gagosian Gallery. In tandem, works on the secondary market in 2019 all realised prices above their high estimates, with some reaching into six figures.

Charles White

Who? Chicago-born Charles White (1918-1979) strove to create ‘images of dignity’ that reflected the lives of African Americans. ‘Art must be an integral part of the struggle. It can’t simply mirror what’s taking place,’ he once said. White also served as an influential teacher to contemporary greats including Kerry James Marshall and David Hammons.

Recent exhibitions: In the past two years, the market for Charles White seems to have been finally catching up to his place in art history. The Art Institute of Chicago and Museum of Modern Art recently organised a travelling retrospective of the artist’s work that also visited Los Angeles County Museum of Art — cities where the artist lived, taught and worked. The exhibition was the first major survey of the artist’s work in more than 35 years.

Alma Thomas

Who? After graduating from Howard University with a degree in Fine Arts, Alma Thomas (1891-1978) spent her career as an elementary school art teacher before devoting herself more fully to painting in 1960. She was then 69 years old. Known for her colourful abstract paintings based on the shapes of trees and flowers, she produced much of her strongest work when she was in her eighth decade. This includes the ‘Earth’ series of the late 1960s, suggestive of Byzantine mosaics.

In 1972 Thomas became first African American woman artist to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Recent exhibitions: Following the White House’s acquisition of the artist’s painting Resurrection (1966) in 2015, an appreciation of the artist’s work and legacy has gained further momentum. Thomas was a headline name in the Soul of a Nation touring exhibition, which focused on black artists’ contributions to American art history. A forthcoming retrospective, titled Everything Is Beautiful, is scheduled to begin at the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk Virginia in July 2021. It will then tour to the Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.; the Frist Art Museum, Nashville; and the Columbus Museum in Georgia.

Roger Brown

Who? Roger Brown (1941-1997) was often associated with the Chicago Imagists, a group of representational artists known for surrealism and grotesquerie. The best examples of Brown’s work include his distinctive patterned natural elements interposed with stark urban architecture.

Recent exhibitions: On the heels of Roger Brown: Virtual Still Lifes, his first solo museum show in New York at The Museum of Arts and Design in 2019, and another solo show at New York’s Venus over Manhattan that closed in January 2020, market interest in Brown’s metaphysical cityscapes has ticked up, with works often sailing past their high estimates at auction.

Rachel Harrison

Who? Born in New York, Rachel Harrison (b. 1966) is a visual artist best known for sculpture and assemblage work, but who has also taken part in photography, drawing and video art. She has challenged traditional sculpture with curious materials — often found objects — which bring viewers into her funky world full of suggested hidden meaning.

Recent Exhibitions: She recently made waves with Rachel Harrison Life Hack, her first full-scale exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, which was dubbed ‘an unlearning experience’ by Holland Cotter of The New York Times.

Derek Fordjour

Who? Derek Fordjour (b. 1974) is a New York-based interdisciplinary artist who works in painting, sculpture and video. A graduate of Hunter College, Harvard University, and Morehouse College, Fordjour is redefining contemporary portraiture with the use of quotidian materials to express a powerful African-American identity. He has gained increased attention from collectors in recent years.

Recent exhibitions: SHELTER, Fordjour’s first major solo museum exhibition opened at the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis in January 2020.

Barry McGee

Who? San Francisco native Barry McGee (b. 1966) is famed for his street art and his monikers: Ray Fong, Bernon Vernon, Twist, and P.Kin. A pioneer of the Mission School art movement, which emerged in the 1990s and is noted for use of non-traditional artistic materials, McGee fuses his signature caricature faces with dizzying verbal graphics. He gained critical and commercial acclaim after being included in the Venice Biennale and other major exhibitions. As a result, much of his street art in San Francisco has been stolen or scavenged.

Recent exhibitions: McGee enjoyed a solo show in late 2019 at Perrotin in Hong Kong and looks forward to another Perrotin show this February in Tokyo. With his fresh and funky figuration, along with blue-chip support, McGee is poised to make a splash this season.

John Sonsoni

Who? Born in New York and based in Los Angeles, John Sonsini (b. 1950) paints primarily in oils and is renowned for his portraits of knit-browed, sincere-faced immigrant workers as well as works based on gay male erotica. Using paint to bestow dignity, Sonsini invites his sitters to sign their name on the back of each canvas, furthering the artist’s insistence that each painting features an individual with a story as unique as their own handwriting.

Recent exhibitions: With a rising auction market and representation by Miles McEnery Gallery in New York, Sonsini was recently included in the National Portrait Gallery’s 2018 exhibition, The Sweat of Their Face: Portraying American Workers, propelling him to the forefront of inventive, incisive contemporary painting.

Nina Chanel Abney

Who? Chicago-born and New Jersey-based, Nina Chanel Abney (b. 1982) is an African-American artist who is celebrated for her narrative figurative paintings steeped in political discourse and pop culture. With her world auction record having been set in 2019, she has gained substantial critical and commercial recognition in the past couple of years, drawing comparisons to Haring, Matisse and Picasso.

Recent exhibitions: Abney has had numerous recent solo exhibitions, including Nina Chanel Abney: Royal Flush, a touring exhibition led by the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University; a site-specific mural at the Palais de Tokyo; and the current exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, which closes on 15 March.

Beauford Delaney

Who? A prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance, Beauford Delaney (1901-1979) is best known for his modern depictions of New York City life as well as his abstractions made while living in Paris. All record prices for the artist at auction have been achieved in the past two years, signalling an increased market recognition and energised interest in the artist’s life and work.

Recent exhibitions: Opening this month at the Knoxville Museum of Art, Beauford Delaney and James Baldwin Through the Unusual Door  features paintings, drawings and archival material that examine the relationship between these key players in the New York art and literary scene of the early 20th century, and will be on view through May 2020.

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