Art by young contemporary artists performed well at auctions in London this week, but few flew off the auction blocks in a frenzy as had been the case through early last year.
That led the total value of evening sales of works by artists under the age of 45 to sink 80% from a year ago to £1.9 million (US$2.41 million), according to the London art analysis firm ArtTactic. The total value of young contemporary art sold at evening auctions this week was also 63% lower than at the London evening auctions in February, which itself represented a 25% drop in value from a year earlier.
An uncertain global economy, high inflation, and persistent geopolitical conflicts, combined with the fact these sales come at the tail end of a brisk season of art buying at both auctions and fairs, likely all contributed. Also, the evening sale totals this June didn’t include Phillips, which opted to only offer a day sale.
At least a quarter of Phillips “20th Century to Now” auction on Friday of more than 100 works were by ultra-contemporary artists, a category the auction house has long led. But four lots on the block failed to find buyers, including paintings by Shara Hughes and Harold Ancart. With only a few exceptions, most others sold within presale estimates.
A standout was the very last lot of the sale: Belgian artist Albert Willem’s All in All Not Bad For His First Attempt, 2021, depicting an airplane with plumes of black smoke that landed in the middle of a city intersection, sold for £180,000, before fees, several multiples of a £15,000 high estimate.
All-in-all, Phillips’ auction realised only £7.15 million, before fees, below a presale estimate range between £8.6 million and £12.3 million, according to ArtTactic. With fees, the sales brought in £9.1 million, with 84% of lots sold, Phillips said.
Overall evening sale results at Christie’s and Sotheby’s declined 22.1% from a year ago to nearly £219 million, before fees, with only five lots selling for more than £5 million, including Gustav Klimt’s Lady with a Fanfor a record price of US$108 million at Sotheby’s on Tuesday.
One reason ultra-contemporary works didn’t spark lofty bidding at this week’s sales is that many of the works weren’t the best examples from these artists, says Morgan Long, managing director of the Fine Art Group, a London art advisory.
According to Long, galleries have been cracking down on “flipping,” that is, buying works on the primary market and selling them soon afterward via the auction houses. The result: “You’re not getting access to and putting into auction really great primary material,” she says.
And, Long says, “most people who want good primary [works], have access” to them. A buyer who wants to see great works by Caroline Walker—a popular Scottish contemporary artist—can find high-quality examples at her gallery, Stephen Friedman in London. Lesser quality examples head to auction, she says.
There were three works by Walker sold at Phillips, including Reception, 2013, which sold for a price before fees of £140,000, below expectations.
Buyer hype for younger contemporary artists also cycles in and out of fashion. In May 2022, works by Anna Weyant led three evening sales in New York. This spring, sightings of Weyant works were scarce. Cloud Hill, a 2020 portrait by the artist sold for £225,000, before fees, at Phillips, below a £250,000 low estimate.
Currently, artists such as Michaela Yearwood-Dan, Julien Nguyen, and Sahara Longe are gaining more attention. “There are all these new ones that have cropped up in between the old guard of the young and the new guard of the young,” says Naomi Baigell, managing director at TPC Art Finance in New York.
Buyers, Baigell says, “are probably looking to see what they can get that doesn’t fly out of the saleroom. And because we’re still in this political and financial environment, the eye is much more discerning when they’re thinking of acquisitions.”
And, she says, collectors “want to start with artists that are going to increase in value, not ones that have increased in value.”
The price points for most works by young contemporary artists often fit the bill. During the London evening sales tracked by ArtTactic, three of the top five performing works were by young contemporary artists Louis Fratino, Yearwood-Dan, and Guglielmo Castelli. The top-selling young artists were Walker, Amoako Boafo, Fratino, Ahmed Mater, and Yearwood-Dan.
But newer collectors to the market are also drawn to newer works and to the access to the art world buying these pieces can provide. Since the start of the pandemic, these combined factors have drawn in a wider group of newer, often younger collectors in addition to seasoned buyers, Baigell says. That’s a far broader swath of individuals than those able to buy a Klimt for US$108.4 million.
Galleries are responding to this trend by seeking out and bringing in younger artists. For all these reasons, Baigell believes the ultra-contemporary art segment will continue to thrive and drive interest in the market.
“We’re going to be seeing a lot more of this 21st-century [art] be what is exciting to watch at auction,” she says.
Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’
Millennials and Gen Z are turning to peers instead of professionals for financial advice. They don’t trust banks, and they are tired of information overload.
Colin Saint-Vil got his money education at the dim sum cart, over a steamy plate of pork buns and turnip cake.
A friend offered to pick up the whole tab on her credit card, “for the points.” At the time, six years ago, “for the points” meant nothing to Saint-Vil, now a 30-year-old planning manager in Brooklyn, so he pressed for more details. They lingered over the dim sum meal as a larger conversation unfolded about annual percentage rates, credit-card debt, payment schedules and more.
Millennials and members of Gen Z prefer to seek financial advice from each other than from parents or from financial professionals. They don’t like overwhelming spreadsheets and marketing material written in seemingly foreign languages. They don’t trust big banks and institutions trying to sell them on investment strategies—as many were raised around the late 2000s financial-crisis. And, they are not wrong: There is a lot to be learned from comparing numbers with peers—from sharing salaries to talking out big decisions like home or car purchases.
Saint-Vil said when his father was his age, he had already begun investing in real estate, but with property prices now so high and mortgage rates only just beginning to fall, he said he couldn’t imagine being able to follow in his father’s footsteps. He, like many millennials and Gen Z-ers, describe their finances as “fairly good” these days, though they hold a negative picture of the greater economy, according to a new poll of 18 to 29-year-olds from the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School.
Millennials are still reeling from the impact of back-to-back recessions, all while large bank closures and investing scams dominate the headlines. Younger people report a feeling of “financial avoidance” exacerbated by high inflation and the pandemic-era budgeting.
As of June 2023, Gallup polling revealed a historically low faith in U.S. institutions, with younger generations voicing high skepticism. According to Gallup, only 9% of respondents aged 18 to 34 expressed “a great deal” of confidence in banks; meanwhile, 47% and 28% said they have “some” or “very little,” respectively.
But when it comes to winning back young consumers, these same financial institutions haven’t quite given up, and are rolling out new outreach programs and robo advisors, some of which have helped bridge a connection with Gen Z and millennials, said Keith Niedermeier, clinical professor of marketing at Indiana University. But many young people still say they prefer do-it-yourself investing platforms like Robinhood and Acorns over traditional advisers at more established wealth-management firms.
Andrew Ragusa, a real-estate broker based on Long Island, blamed the twin problems of low housing inventory and high home prices for postponing younger buyers’ ownership. The median age of a first-time home buyer in the U.S. is 35-years old as of 2023, according to data from the National Association of Realtors. That is slightly down from an record high of 36 in 2022, but still two years older than the median age in 2021, which is representative of an ageing first-time buyer trend.
When he talks with younger clients now, he detects a gloomy sentiment. “They try to be optimistic, but the overall sentiment is ‘This is supposed to be the American dream: we get a house and we get some financial security and I just have to have faith it will all work out in the end.’ But they don’t have faith it will.”
Fear and shame around being able to buy or accomplish as much as one’s parents might have financially can crop up when millennials talk to elders about their financial frustrations, said Jodi Kaus, director of Kansas State University’s student financial planning centre, Powercat Financial. She’s found that lessons and advice from friends are often more constructive.
Kaus leads a peer-to-peer financial planning centre that pairs up students to work through financial issues. She works to pair people with similar backgrounds: graduate students with graduate students or international students with international students. Talking with someone only a few years removed from your current situation means you’re better able to internalize the messages and execute on their advice, Kaus said.
“Early on, parents even say ‘Are you sure students can help my child?’” she said. “And I say ‘I am more than confident that they can help each other.’
Sharing money tips and financial know-how with your friends doesn’t only benefit the asker, Kaus said. In the Kansas State University peer-to-peer group, the advice giver also learns a lot from their own position, because sharing their story and bonding with a peer helps them to build their own confidence and belief in their financial acumen.
Lindsay Clark, a 34-year-old director of external affairs in Washington, D.C., recalls one lesson she shared with a friend carrying student loans from pharmacy school. Clark works at Savi, a student loan platform, and she offered to cook her friend dinner while they sorted through his loan repayment options. Long after they’d cleaned their dinner plates, they sat together at Clark’s kitchen island, lingering over a plate of homemade hummus and chatting about everything from financial goals to Costco card benefits.
“Those conversations blossom from the transparency, and the visibility makes both people feel really good,” she said. “That creates better relationships overall.”
When you’re talking about money issues with friends, Clark said, you’re not artificially inflating your salary or pretending to know more than you do. And most important, you’re not worried about their ulterior motives.
“You feel safe in that conversation, knowing their intentions are good and they’re not trying to make money off of you,” she said. “And that’s going to lead to better results, because we’re working with the reality here.”
Skepticism of pronounced experts and criticism of established financial institutions is especially common among millennials and Gen Z, Neidermeier said. Studies show people across generations are much likelier to take a friend or colleague’s recommendation to heart over that of a faceless institution, he said; people who spend time on social media just have a greater opportunity to source those answers and field questions.
“What people say to each other over the picket fence is what is the most influential,” he said.
At a certain point, however, talking solely to friends and peers for your financial lessons can be very limiting, said Sarah Behr, founder of Simplify Financial Planning in San Francisco. Relying on your social circle can also put a strain on those relationships; no one wants to be responsible for your disappointment when a financial decision that worked out well for them doesn’t fit as well in your own life.
Behr recommends tuning into your own emotional reactions when assessing peer advice: does the road map they followed align with your own financial values? Does it put pressure on you to live outside your means or challenge your personal risk tolerance? If the answer doesn’t feel clear, that could be a time to outsource to a financial professional who has no emotional connection to you or your financial status.
“‘People have been telling me do this, but I just don’t know if it’s the right thing for me’—I get a lot of calls like that,” said Behr.
Saint-Vil said he and his friends share tips on what high-yield savings accounts offer the best rates, and when he did his credit card research, he chose a card recommended by a friend. When it comes time to work with a financial adviser or even one day a wealth manager, he’ll likely work with someone recommended through a peer. Behr said close to 90% of her business comes by way of client referrals.
Since that first conversation over dim sum, Saint-Vil has thrown his own card onto the table at meals and shared his knowledge with other pals who look confused.
“I have a real wide range of friends who are in many different financial places, but I would say a rising tide lifts all ships,” he said.
Julia Carpenter is the co-author, with Bourree Lam, of The Wall Street Journal’s “The New Rules of Money: A Playbook for Planning Your Financial Future,” a personal-finance workbook published this week by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group.
Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’