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What’s Next? 18 Trends That Will Move the Art World Forward

An image from Jon Rafman’s Tumblr
Up and Away: An image from Jon Rafman’s Tumblr Courtesy the artist.

Net Art Will Make a Comeback

Net art (or, as its originators tend to call it) burst onto the scene in the mid to late 1990s and had tech geeks and artists enthralled—remember “new media”?—for about five years. Then it receded. Recently, the genre has come in not only for reappraisal but resurgence. Jon Rafman recently restarted his Nine Eyes of Google Street View (a Tumblr dating back to 2008 that came to be considered one of the most important net artworks of the ’00s), and many others have followed in the service of digital work both old and new. For an online exhibition with links in Shanghai, Seoul, and New York, the artist duo Tega Brain and Sam Lavigne created Get Well Soon! to survey some 200,000 comments from GoFundMe campaigns in an effort to highlight inequities during the global pandemic. “We’re looking at it as an archive of human experience,” Brain said. And other pieces with active futures ahead of them have included Ye Funa’s interactive Dr. Corona Online, which answers health-related queries using AI, and JODI’s ICTI.ME, which replicates glitches found on social media.

Michael Connor, artistic director of the New York–based digital-art hub Rhizome, attributed the new surge of net art to a need for connectivity that only stands to intensify as more and more activities drift online. “Working online has always been a choice,” but now, he said, it is one of the most important ways “we have to access a lot of culture and community.”

Surrealism Will Continue Its Rise on the Market

René Magritte, The Pleasure Principle, 1937.
Market Climb: René Magritte, The Pleasure Principle, 1937. Courtesy Sotheby’s.

“Recent years have shown a rapidly ascending market for [René] Magritte,” Emmanuel Di Donna, director of New York’s Di Donna Galleries, said of an icon whose work set an auction record two years ago when The Pleasure Principle (1937) sold for $26.8 million. And “just last year,” the dealer continued, “the Magritte market saw the highest number of sold lots and record auction turnover of over $108 million, indicating a strong commitment from buyers.”

Since then, Surrealists have only continued their market climb, with artists like Magritte, Max Ernst, and Salvador Dalí seeing increasing auction figures and establishing the movement’s legacy at the forefront of global collecting.

Significant exhibitions devoted to the style—“René Magritte: The Fifth Season” at SFMOMA in 2018, “Dalí & Magritte” at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium until earlier this year—have contributed to robust investment in the secondary market for these artists and their peers. And the development coincides with expanding tastes for timeless artworks that reflect crucial modern milestones, as well as a shift in attention toward undervalued artists.

“There is now a welcome re-evaluation of some of the lesser-known artists of the movement,” Di Donna said of a rise in prices for figures such as Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo, Kay Sage, and Yves Tanguy. In line with rising attention for art on the modernist margins, Tate in England acquired the archive of British Surrealist Ithell Colquhoun last year, giving her long-deserved recognition in an art historical lineage from which she has largely been omitted.

And the past is present in other ways too, as the rise of Surrealism “mirrors a larger market trend toward a return to representational and figurative work,” Di Donna said. The movement’s oneiric aura and stark juxtapositions figure in the work of emerging artists who have seen success in the contemporary auctions, like Jonathan Gardner, Julie Curtiss, and Nicolas Party. Di Donna added, “Fascination with the subconscious, explored and developed in the art of the Surrealists, has been a major factor in the recent turn to figuration today.”

Salman Toor, Four Friends, 2019.
On the Rise: Salman Toor, Four Friends, 2019. Collection Christie Zhou.

Salman Toor’s Star Will Ascend…

Salman Toor, born in Pakistan in 1983, makes figurative paintings with a focus on connections among queer men in New York and South Asia that have come to be coveted by a growing group of followers with refined eyes. His “ability to look back at art history and channel it through a contemporary lens is very appealing,” Rachael White Young, a specialist at Christie’s and a close follower of Toor’s career, said of an unassuming style that contains allusions to Old Masters as well as proto-modernists like Édouard Manet and Vincent van Gogh. (Toor’s work has not yet come on the auction block.) Proponents of figurative painting, she added, “want substance—and his work is so infused with emotional and psychological substance.”

Though a solo show that had been scheduled for the spring at the Whitney Museum was put on hold when the institution shuttered during the coronavirus crisis, it stands to be a breakout whenever it happens for an artist whose credits thus far include showings at Galerie Perrotin and Aicon Gallery in New York, Anat Ebgi in Los Angeles, and—among other international exhibitions—the 2018 Lahore Biennale and the 2016 Kochi-Muziris Biennale.

Whitney curator Christopher Lew said he has noticed growing appreciation among Toor’s “strong base of supporters and collectors” for a familiar style the artist has made his own. “He’s certainly not the only painter to be working in a figurative way at this moment,” Lew said, “but his work is so emotive and so intimate—and thinking about queer South Asian diasporas is so pertinent right now.”

…So Will Sophie Taeuber-Arp’s

Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Dada Head, 1920.
Better Late Than Never: Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Dada Head, 1920. Centre Pompidou, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris. © Stiftung Arp e.V., Berlin/Rolandswerth/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Sophie Taeuber-Arp’s face appears on the 50-franc note in Switzerland, and yet few outside the late artist’s homeland know her work as well as they do that of her husband, sculptor Hans Arp. But the fan club for the artist, who died in 1943, is growing. Artists such as Polly Apfelbaum, Haegue Yang, and Ulrike Müller have made work under her influence, and in the realm of fashion, Fendi and Duro Olowu have unveiled haute couture inspired by her playful abstractions comprising colorful shapes arranged in eye-popping patterns.

More fans of Taeuber-Arp—who was one of the leading artists in Zurich’s Dada movement, which harnessed absurdity in response to the horrors of World War I—stand to be minted when her first retrospective in the United States in 40 years opens at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and then heads to Tate Modern in London and the Kunstmuseum Basel in Switzerland. “This exhibition will definitely contribute to the initiative of trying to redress exclusionary histories,” said Anne Umland, a senior curator of painting and sculpture at MoMA who helped organize the show.

Two years ago, mega-gallery Hauser & Wirth took on representation of the estate of Hans Arp, whose work sells for upward of $5 million. But Taeuber-Arp, who just got added to the gallery’s roster, has taken longer to rise to attention. Two of her prized “Dada Heads” have sold for more than $1 million at auction, but her esteemed abstract paintings have sold at what some specialists consider good values, around $400,000. Iwan Wirth, president and cofounder of Hauser & Wirth, called Taeuber-Arp “undervalued.”

Saidiya Hartman in her office.
Critical Fabulation: Saidiya Hartman in her office. Courtesy John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Saidiya Hartman Will Be Art’s Theorist of Choice

Theorist Saidiya Hartman’s name is about to become a lot more familiar to people who follow cutting-edge art. Her writings, which offer a voice to Black women who have not made it into history, have recently been cited as influential by artists of the moment like Arthur Jafa, Ja’Tovia Gary, and Cauleen Smith.

Working in a lineage seeded in part by Fred Moten, Hortense Spillers, and Christina Sharpe—theorists who have addressed intersections of race, gender, and philosophy—Hartman makes use of what she calls “critical fabulation” in books that are hard to classify (fiction nor nonfiction? criticism or scholarship?) but easy to keep thinking about long after they’re put down.

Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women and Queer Radicals, published in 2019 and still generating aftershocks as more and more in the art world read it, calls up archival documents mined for details about the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and then expanded upon using lavish prose and semi-imagined inner dialogues from real people. Her focus is typically female-identified Black Americans who have not been given due consideration, such as A’Lelia Walker, the first self-made female millionaire in the United States, and Elinora Harris, who was arrested while fighting off her rapist and later took the name Billie Holiday.

“So much of the book is about assembly—the stakes of being together,” said Thomas J. Lax, a curator at the Museum of Modern Art who in January organized a big event attended by numerous artists and fellow curators feting Hartman at MoMA PS1 in New York. “Honoring that was the right way to celebrate.” Lax studied with Hartman as a grad student at Columbia University and calls himself her “intellectual child”—and he is hardly alone. Artists have also caught on. Simone Leigh has professed devotion to Hartman’s consideration of sound and which kinds of cultural figures get to be heard. Cameron Rowland told the crowd at PS1: “Hartman’s writings have fundamentally shaped my understanding of reparations.” Okwui Okpokwasili, who performed at PS1, said later that Hartman “articulates a way of thinking that speaks to how I make work” and added that her writing “resonates with a way of sensing our own bodies” in relation to others and the state.

Lax added a touch of tribute to the sensuousness in her writing too. “For many in the art world, beauty can seem hackneyed or clichéd,” he said. “The way that Saidiya defines, redefines, or remobilizes beauty allows for another form of representation.” And Hartman’s influence has been moving beyond America, as Lax noted: artists in Brazil and South Africa are under her sway—a sign that keeps in line, he said, with the scholar’s concept of “the chorus,” or a group of often-marginalized people who speak as one and come to shape history.

Hypebeasts Will Roar Louder

KAWS x Medicom’s figurine Be@rbrick 1000%/Dissected Companion (Black), 2010.
Believe the Hype: KAWS x Medicom’s figurine Be@rbrick 1000%/Dissected Companion (Black), 2010. Courtesy Artcurial.

With the boundaries between traditional collecting categories and luxury markets continuing to blur, the time is ripe for an even bigger explosion of interest in hype sales, a realm of the art market with intensifying interest in pop culture and cross-branded collectibles. As a new class of younger prospective buyers looks to invest, the auction houses have stepped up with sales featuring limited editions and offerings conceived collaboratively between artists and designers.

Items related to streetwear, urban art, and different corners of culture prevail. Last November, Christie’s—in a sale marking the first of its kind in the auction house’s history—brought in $2.1 million for lots gathered under the title “Handbags X Hype,” with a Supreme X Louis Vuitton chest going for double its low estimate at $125,000.

Parisian auction house Artcurial’s “Urban & Pop Contemporary” category has featured sales offering collaborations between artists like KAWS, Futura 2000, Damien Hirst, and Takashi Murakami, and fashion mainstays such as Chanel and Calvin Klein. An Artcurial sale in 2018 took the title “C.R.E.A.M” (an allusion to “cash rules everything around me,” a refrain popularized by the rap group Wu-Tang Clan), and more recent sales have been named “Don’t Believe the Hype” and “Outsider(s): A History of Beautiful Losers.” At Sotheby’s, a Supreme skateboard sale this past January featured skate decks decorated with imagery by the likes of George Condo, Marilyn Minter, and Damien Hirst, and items from a line of KAWS X Dior toys featured in the spring’s Hong Kong contemporary art sale online.

Such activity “speaks to the intermingling of collecting and consumer behavior today across every collecting category,” said Caitlin Donovan, a specialist with a focus on handbags and accessories at Christie’s in New York. She noted that the right kind of object can offer an intersectional value “viewed as a luxury item, piece of art, and part of pop-culture” that allows buyers to “break the traditional collector stereotype.” And as fine art categories age and pop culture expands, the legacy of iconic brands offers value from the outside—such that branded collectibles can fetch prices similar to those for refined decorative objects, Chinese bronzes, and rare gems. As Donovan puts it, “from contemporary art collectors to buyers of high fashion, the legacy of brands represents a new type of luxury—inclusive of all references from fine art to pop culture.”

Writing and reporting by Sarah Douglas, Andy Battaglia, Alex Greenberger, Maximilíano Durón, Claire Selvin, Tessa Solomon, and Angelica Villa.

A version of this article appears in the Summer 2020 issue of ARTnews, under the title “Next Big Things.”