Sale prices that wildly exceed expectations give a jolt of excitement to art auctions. In the prepandemic days of live audiences, a gasp from the crowd might be heard. Though much of the action has moved online, those moments can still send ripples through the art world.
In the last few years, a wave of energy has emanated from a group of 40-and-under contemporary artists whose work has rocketed to enormous prices soon after their first appearance in sales at the big auction houses — in some cases before they have had solo museum shows or passed other milestones on the way to a career in full flower.
In June 2018, the Swiss artist Nicolas Party, now 40, was a figurative painter on the rise, known for Surrealism-inflected landscapes and still lifes, when he made his first appearance at auction. His 2012 pencil-on-paper “Still Life No 97” made a respectable $11,128 at Christie’s London.
A year and a half — and a couple of decimal places — later, in November 2019, his 2016 pastel “Rocks” made $1.1 million at Christie’s Hong Kong.