Why Figurative Art is On the Rise

Lot 404, "Study of Dancer" by David Hockney, graphite andamp; gouache on paper, Sotheby's (through September 30)

With many recent exhibitions featuring figurative art, including this summer’s “William N. Copley: The World According to CPLY” and the forthcoming David Hockney retrospective, demand for figurative art is on the rise. Emily Kaplan, Head of Contemporary Curated at Sotheby’s, says, “There’s been a real revived interest in figurative painting – both David Hockney and William Copley are great examples of this. They’ve seen a bit of a renaissance. While they’re established and have been around for a long time, prices for both have been climbing.” For Hockney specifically, the market has expanded from America and the U.K. to Asia and other European countries.

Works by Copley and Hockney are featured in Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Online auction (open for bidding now through September 30th). Providing a comprehensive view of post-war and contemporary art, the sale includes affordable works by blue chip artists like Andy Warhol, George Condo, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Two of the drawings by Warhol, in fact, are offered without reserve. “This is an amazing opportunity to add a work to your collection by a well-known artist for very little,” says Kaplan.

Kaplan gave us an inside look at contemporary market trends to watch and shared with us some of her own favorites from Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Online.

Lot 404, “Study of Dancer” by David Hockney, graphite & gouache on paper,
Sotheby’s (through September 30)

“David Hockney is one artist who has been really interesting to watch. This work, ‘Study of Dancer,’ is a collection of four different drawings. Hockney was creating these theater sets in the ‘80s, during which time he painted a lot of masked actors and backstage scenes. This fits into that interesting body of work, and is a little bit lesser-known.”

Lot 405, “Seated Nude” by Richard Diebenkorn, charcoal & ink on paper,
Sotheby’s (through September 30)

“The Diebenkorn is one of my very favorites. It’s this beautiful nude study. He’s a California-based artist that drew from life, but is most well-known for his abstract paintings. This work is interesting because it really combines the figurative and the abstract. The ‘bottom half’ of the composition recalls Diebenkorn’s ‘Ocean Park’ series.

Lot 412, “Untitled” by George Condo, watercolor & colored pencil on paper,
Sotheby’s (through September 30)

“Another one that I really love is one a series of three George Condo works on paper from the ‘80s. They’re all very charming and sweet in their own way. They’re each $4-6,000, so to get a work by Condo for that price range is incredible. The first one is a little beach scene, lot 412. Condo was very inspired by Picasso, and this is reminiscent of Picasso’s beach scenes in its own way.”

Lot 415, “Vavoom” by Raymond Pettibon, ink on paper,
Sotheby’s (through September 30)

“Raymond Pettibon’s ‘Vavoom’ from 1988, lot 415, is one we expect to do very well. This one is especially of the moment because there will be a Pettibon retrospective opening at the New Museum in the spring of 2017.”

Lot 437, “Untitled” by David Smith, oil on paper mounted on Masonite,
Sotheby’s (through September 30)

“Lot 437 is one of the earliest works on paper we’ve ever offered by David Smith – it’s from 1946. One of the reasons I love it is because it feels almost like a Wifredo Lam, a well-known Latin American artist. I’ve never seen a David Smith that recalls Lam so vividly. It’s semi-figurative, with abstracted forms next to a piano. It’s a really interesting work, very different from what you normally see from David Smith. He was most well known for his sculptures, and worked alongside the Abstract Expressionists. This particular work, though, sheds light on this moment in his artistic practice that we don’t see that often.”

Lot 419, “Untitled” by Thomas Downing, acrylic & graphite on canvas,
Sotheby’s (through September 30)

In addition to figurative art, Kaplan says Color Field artists are also in demand this season. Two such champions of the movement are Thomas Downing and Jack Youngerman, American artists whose work paved the way for experimentation with color and geometric abstraction, while distinctly evoking the qualities of Henri Matisse’s paper cutouts.

“One of our Thomas Downing’s from our last sale did really well, so we expect this one, lot 419, to mimic those great results. He’s a very well-established, second generation Color Field artist and the work is just beautiful and punchy. We feature several Color Field artists in this sale, including a subtle work on paper by Kenneth Noland, a work by Gene Davis and Jules Olitski.”

Lot 420, “Yellow Rising” by Jack Youngerman, acrylic on canvas,
Sotheby’s (through September 30)

“This is an interesting piece by Jack Youngerman. We don’t typically sell many of his works, but we do have three up for offer now – one in the Online sale and two in the Contemporary Curated sale (now through September 29), the editorialized version of the mid-season Contemporary Art auction highlighted by special selections from guest curators, today’s tastemakers in fashion, culture, food, and beyond.

This particular one, lot 420, is a work from 1970 and has this Ellsworth Kelly quality to it. It’s this gorgeous blue-purple background with a yellow orchid shape in the foreground. It’s a silhouette and is just beautiful. This one I think will do very well, far beyond its estimate, and maybe even revive interest in the artist because he hasn’t been that present on the market recently.”

See these extraordinary highlights and more in Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Online, now through September 30th.