10 Emerging Artists Who Reached New Heights in 2021

Liz Catalano
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As auction houses big and small weathered another year of the COVID-19 pandemic, bidders raised their virtual paddles with undeniable enthusiasm. Many young artists achieved new auction records in 2020, including Amy Sherald, Amoako Boafo, and Mickalene Thomas. These artists continued their ascent in 2021. Now, Auction Daily examines ten more emerging artists who reached new heights at auction this year.

Ewa Juszkiewicz in her Warsaw studio. Image courtesy of the artist.
Ewa Juszkiewicz in her Warsaw studio. Image courtesy of the artist.

1. Ewa Juszkiewicz

Ewa Juszkiewicz creates surreal portraits that rest in the space between amusing and unsettling. The Polish painter uses art history as a well of inspiration for her work. She paints the women of European history in a new light, replacing their passive expressions with a veil of hair, vegetables, leaves, or fabric. Juszkiewicz has been on the market’s radar since her New York debut in 2020. Since March of 2021, her auction prices have soared as well. Juszkiewicz broke her personal record several times during the recent autumn auction season. Sotheby’s set a new high in October’s contemporary art evening auction (USD 481,942) only for Phillips to pass that figure a month later. Juszkiewicz’s current record sits at $731,000 for her 2013 painting titled Girl in Blue.

Cinga Samson in his studio. Image courtesy of Artskop.
Cinga Samson in his studio. Image courtesy of Artskop.

2. Cinga Samson

Cinga Samson, a South African artist based in Cape Town, has enjoyed a steady rise over the last few years. His detailed paintings of Black subjects with vacant eyes struck a chord with collectors in 2019 during Art Basel in Miami Beach. The works have dark and mysterious palettes, though Samson’s intentions are anything but. The artist seeks to separate the work of African creators from Western imperialism. His paintings wrest the critical gaze from the viewer and return it to his sitters. 

Cinga Samson made his auction debut in 2020. Since then, prices for his works have skyrocketed. A Samson painting cost between $10,000 and $15,000 at blank projects gallery in Cape Town just a few years ago. Now, his average auction price is well over $300,000. Samson’s current auction record is $438,912, set at Sotheby’s in October.

Jadé Fadojutimi in her studio. Image courtesy of Pippy Houldsworth Gallery.
Jadé Fadojutimi in her studio. Image courtesy of Pippy Houldsworth Gallery.

3. Jadé Fadojutimi

London-based emerging artist Jadé Fadojutimi creates vibrant figurative paintings that defy traditional categories. Themes of music, identity, and personal symbolism explode into abstract constellations under Fadojutimi’s brush. Color also plays a prominent role in her work. Her dense, wall-sized canvases draw both critical praise and aggressive bidding. Fadojutimi’s auction record increased by leaps and bounds over the last few years. Phillips facilitated many recent sales of her work. The house steadily pushed her record past the $1 million mark. Jadé Fadojutimi’s auction high now sits at $1.6 million.

Emily Mae Smith in her studio. Image by Matteo Mobilio for GQ Style.
Emily Mae Smith in her studio. Image by Matteo Mobilio for GQ Style.

4. Emily Mae Smith

Although she has been painting for 20 years, Emily Mae Smith has only come into her own market within the last few. Collectors are jostling for her surreal paintings of brooms, tuning forks, and other everyday objects. Smith transforms these items into robust characters who brim with personality and social commentary. The goal is to, in Smith’s own words, “[claim] space for feminine subjectivity.”

That subjectivity has finally earned a following. Smith’s paintings headlined many major contemporary art evening sales over the last year, attracting jaw-dropping hammer prices to match. Smith can now count herself among the market’s most-watched rising stars. Phillips and Poly Auction notched Smith’s new record with Broom Life. It sold for $1.6 million in June.

FEWOCiOUS with his NFT artworks. Image by Noam Galai, courtesy of Getty Images.
FEWOCiOUS with his NFT artworks. Image by Noam Galai, courtesy of Getty Images.

5. FEWOCiOUS (Victor Langlois)

The 18-year-old emerging artist Victor Langlois caught the attention of the traditional art world this past June. Known to crypto collectors as FEWOCiOUS, he is among the NFT movement’s Gen Z leaders. The queer transgender artist documents his own journey and struggles, from early familial rejection to unwavering support in the crypto community. FEWOCiOUS partnered with Christie’s to auction Hello, i’m Victor (FEWOCiOUS) and This Is My Life during Pride Month 2021. The NFT series sold for $2.2 million after crashing the auction house’s website. FEWOCiOUS now holds the title of the youngest artist to ever sell with Christie’s. Beyond that, he is a figure not to be underestimated in the digital art sphere.

Ayako Rokkaku with her paintings. Image courtesy of the artist via Pluswijzer.
Ayako Rokkaku with her paintings. Image courtesy of the artist via Pluswijzer.

6. Ayako Rokkaku 

Contemporary artists from Asia are on the rise as deep-pocketed collectors from the region place their bids. Ayako Rokkaku is no exception. The Japanese artist has received stamps of approval from Takashi Murakami, Tadao Ando, Yoshitomo Nara, and Christie’s owner François Pinault at the annual GEISAI art fair. Rokkaku’s exuberant paintings of girls with spaghetti-like arms are also making a splash in the Amsterdam and Hong Kong markets. Phillips showcased Rokkaku’s work during its pre-sale ULTRA/NEO spotlight in late November. Untitled ARP 07-013 recently soared past its high estimate of HKD 3 million (USD 385,000) to achieve HKD 6.3 million (USD 807,800) with Phillips. 

Serge Attukwei Clottey at 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair. Image by Luke Walker, courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1957.
Serge Attukwei Clottey at 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair. Image by Luke Walker, courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1957.

7. Serge Attukwei Clottey

Ghanaian contemporary artist Serge Attukwei Clottey uses plastic yellow jerrycans to cross the boundaries of medium and convention. Ghanaians widely use these containers to carry and store water. Clottey incorporates performance art in his work by dressing in traditional women’s clothes to collect the jerrycans. Clottey’s work also includes sculpture, installations, and photography. For Clottey, the vibrant yellow jerrycans are not merely an aesthetic to enjoy. They also house messages regarding social and political issues. Serge Attukwei Clottey is an established artist in Accra, but his international breakout moment only came recently. He achieved a new personal auction record when Phillips sold Fashion icons for $465,500, more than 11 times its high presale estimate.

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye in 2013. Image by Joost Vandebrug for Vogue Italia.
Lynette Yiadom-Boakye in 2013. Image by Joost Vandebrug for Vogue Italia.

8. Lynette Yiadom-Boakye

British painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye breaks from traditional molds to create her figure portraits. The subjects of her paintings are entirely imagined, from their appearances to their personalities. These characters evolve naturally on Yiadom-Boakye’s canvases. “They’re kind of just who they are,” she told The New York Times. “They exist in the paint.” She has exhibited widely since earning an MFA in 2003, but the market only just caught up to her work. Yiadom-Boakye’s paintings appeared at Tate Britain in the early months of 2021. Since then, auction prices for her work have steadily increased. Christie’s auctioned Yiadom-Boakye’s Diplomacy III for a record-setting $1.95 million in May.

Flora Yukhnovich with her paintings. Image by Louise Benson for Elephant.
Flora Yukhnovich with her paintings. Image by Louise Benson for Elephant.

9. Flora Yukhnovich

Another breakout artist of 2021 is Flora Yukhnovich. Trained and educated in Rococo styles, the British painter transforms familiar compositions into abstract expanses. Defined figures blur into pastel blobs that, at times, resemble flowers or optical illusions. Distance brings her paintings into focus. Bidders clamored for Yukhnovich’s paintings this year, driving up her personal auction record. The third Yukhnovich painting to ever hit the secondary market came to auction with Phillips in June, achieving $1.2 million. Sotheby’s almost tripled that record a few months later when I’ll Have What She’s Having sold for $3 million. The piece inspired a ten-way bidding war and anointed Flora Yukhnovich as a key emerging artist of this year.

Tunji Adeniyi-Jones with his paintings. Image courtesy of Omenka.
Tunji Adeniyi-Jones with his paintings. Image courtesy of Omenka.

10. Tunji Adeniyi-Jones

New York-based artist Tunji Adeniyi-Jones is another key figure to watch in the current art market. In his geometric and arresting paintings, Adeniyi-Jones interrogates the identity of the African diaspora. He draws upon his own Nigerian heritage and British upbringing in his practice. Rich colors play a significant role in his work. They accentuate curved, sensual, near-mythic figures who twist and turn to gaze back at the viewer. Phillips played a role in Adeniyi-Jones’ rise in 2021, helping him secure a new high of $415,600 during an October evening sale in London. 

Looking for the latest in contemporary art? Auction Daily recently pointed a spotlight on ultra-contemporary art, tracing its path from the term’s origins to the category’s future.

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Liz Catalano
Liz Catalano
Senior Writer and Editor

Liz Catalano is a writer and editor for Auction Daily. She covers fine art sales, market analysis, and social issues within the auction industry. She regularly collaborates with auction houses and other clients. A Chicago native, she holds a BSW degree and is based in Pennsylvania.

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