Mass produced and quickly resold, ‘Flip Art’ is about the nearest thing today to a coherent movement.
If the market for contemporary art is in danger of overheating, the first canary in the coal mine will surely be those fashionable young artists whose prices have been driven up by speculators over the past few years.
Midseason auctions of affordable works by emerging names are telling temperature gauges for the contemporary market. (Auction house) Phillips’s quarterly “Under The Influence” sales have, in particular, become events where benchmark values are set for works by young artists. Many of these artworks are privately bought and then quickly sold on, or “flipped,” by insiders before a wider audience gets to hear about them.
The 202-lot sale at Phillips in London on April 8, which included recent paintings by Parker Ito, Dan Rees, Lucien Smith, Oscar Murillo and other flippers’ favourites, totalled £1.6mil (RM8.7mil), which was above the low estimate. Two-thirds of the material found buyers, with all the headline lots successful.
The top price was £56,250 (RM308,915) paid by a telephone bidder for a 2012 “Artex Painting” by the Welsh artist Rees (born 1982), valued at £20,000 (RM109,836) to £30,000 (RM164,911). The Rees was typical of the so-called “process-based” paintings produced by the predominantly American and British-trained artists who are currently generating many of the flip trades in the speculative lower end of the market. Consciously or unconsciously, these artists are perfectly in tune with our financial times.
This kind of “Flip Art,” as it might be called, is just about the nearest thing in today’s fragmented global art scene that approximates to a coherent movement.
The Flip Art aesthetic practiced by artists like Rees, Smith, Murillo, Ito and other wunderkinder is instantly recognisable. They make abstract paintings that are a clever play on the act of painting. These abstracts often employ novel – not to mention cheap – painting techniques, such as using a fire extinguisher (Smith) or home improvement products (Rees). They’re often big, and have significant wall power. Equally important, there are plenty of them.
Smith, for example, has produced as many as 300 of his paint-droplet “Rain” canvases, according to dealers. Mass production allows artists to make as much money as possible. It also enables contemporary art investors, nervous of notions of rarity, to buy multiple works and to track their price fluctuations, like a commodity, on databases such as Artnet.
Flip Art, like Andy Warhol’s Factory-produced Pop Art, can be as reassuringly numerous and uniform as gambling chips.
Few people besides the artists themselves have much of an idea how many paintings Smith, Murillo and Ito have made.
“We don’t know,” said Phillips’ London’s Tamila Kerimova, referring to the number of shiny spray-painted 2012 abstracts called The Agony And The Ecstasy that Ito has produced.
“That’s the whole point of these works,” said Kerimova. “They don’t have to be unique. They reflect our times.”
In interviews, the Los Angeles/New York-based Ito (born 1986) has talked about his desire to make artworks that are as “undocumentable” and limitlessly “random” as Internet searches.
But in today’s art world, has visibility in the market become as valid a measure of success as being in a museum collection?
As Düsseldorf-based art consultant Jorg Michael Bertz observed, “once an artist appears at auction, people think they’re established.”
That’s certainly how the Flip Artists got there. – New York Times