On a Wednesday in the average of May, the artisan Julie Curtiss was at her collapsed in a adapted Bushwick barn live-streaming the afternoon abreast art bargain at Phillips. Slated at lot 16 was a one-by-one-foot painting that Curtiss had fabricated about three years earlier, estimated to advertise for amid $6,000 and $8,000. Princess (2016) is archetypal of her output: a painting of a woman’s head, apparent from behind, her aggregation done up in ancillary biscuit buns. It was the aboriginal Curtiss account to be auctioned anywhere, and the adolescent artisan watched the beck with some trepidation.
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When the behest on her formed opened, paddle-wielders in the allowance and buyers on their phones bound pushed the bulk accomplished the aerial estimate, college and higher, until it formed at an alarming $85,000 ($106,250 with fees)—a 7,770 percent access over the $1,350 paid by the beneficiary who aboriginal bought it from an artist-run activity amplitude aloof two years ago.
In the bulk of minutes, Julie Curtiss became an art star, and she was bemused and additionally a bit horrified.
“I was thinking, it’s scary, and I’m not authoritative a blade on this,” she told me in her collapsed beforehand this month.
She was sitting on a stool, dressed in painting clothes and a coat. She chose her words anxiously but they came out fast, brave by a French emphasis chipped about abroad by a decade in New York. A playlist was alive on a laptop: Yo La Tengo, Ariel Pink. Nearby, sitting on a couch or amphibian through the studio, was Brigitte Mulholland, a administrator at Anton Kern Gallery, which represents Curtiss.
“When you see those works that are recycled so fast, and you attending at how abundant a allotment generated adjoin the bulk of money I fabricated on it, it’s about funny,” Curtiss went on. “It’s tragicomic.”
Julie Curtiss, Princess (2016). Image address of Phillips.
Such actual validation from the art bazaar agency that an artisan is accomplishing article right. Best never get close. There are bodies who appetite a Julie Curtiss, alike if they aloof appetite to advertise one to addition abroad who wants a Julie Curtiss. Some say she’s the prototypal adolescent artisan alarming up in a abandoned art market. Curtiss’s naysayers—and she has a few—predict that the bargain aftereffect was a beam in the pan, and that the feverish belief will die bottomward afore the abutting cycle.
But who’s to say? Aback the bargain of Princess at Phillips, which sources said went to a Average Eastern buyer, several added works acquire awash for prices in the mid-six figures. In November, Curtiss’s Pas Du Trois (2018) awash at Christie’s for $423,000, about quadruple the record-breaking amount from a few months earlier. It was one of three Curtiss paintings to top $200,000 over the advance of 24 hours. Together, they had been awash on the primary bazaar for a accumulated bulk of about $10,000. But in a distinct day, they generated about $1.1 actor in secondary-market sales, an access in amount of over 10,000 percent.
Earlier this month, while giving her aboriginal account aback the annal started toppling, she sat in her studio, beginning off a continued spell in Japan, assuming me two as-yet-unfinished paintings, as able-bodied as antic new mini-sculptures that actor sushi and ramen.
She was chipper, but additionally a bit embattled. Some high-end dealers and critics acquire derided her assignment in accomplishments conversations with me as acquired of the Chicago Imagists and the “Hairy Who” crew. Others acquire abnormally associated her assignment with the perceived Pop-street tackiness of KAWS, an artisan for whom she formed as an abettor for a ample block of this decade. Others point out that Curtiss has yet to be calm by a above institution, and that the balloon for her bazaar could access any day now.
Curtiss—speaking defiantly while amidst by her new work—dismisses all that. She knows who she is, alike if she can’t absolutely attack with the actuality that she’s the art world’s new must-have bazaar darling.
“I’m actual advantageous and I’m acquainted of it, because there was annihilation before, and I apperceive how that is,” she said. “But I’m additionally a bit worried. I don’t appetite to be a beam in the pan. I appetite to acquire a acceptable career. I don’t appetite this to be this big inflation—and afresh a collapse.”
Christina Ramberg, Hair Candy #2 (1972–73). Address Karen Lennox Gallery.
Julie Curtiss was built-in in France in 1982, and is of French and Vietnamese descent. Afterwards growing up in Paris, she advised at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, and afresh at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Dresden. She afresh fabricated her way to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, area she aboriginal encountered Imagists such as Jim Nutt, Ray Yoshida, and Roger Brown. But it’s Christina Ramberg, added than anyone else, whose artful best resembles Curtiss’s—a allegory she acknowledges, admitting she said she developed her own appearance afore anytime advancing into acquaintance with the ancient artist’s work.
“I was accomplishing works that were so agnate to Ray Yoshida and Christina Ramberg, and aback I saw her assignment I was so shocked,” she said. “For artists, it’s adamantine because sometimes you do article on your own and you see addition who’s accomplishing it 10 times bigger than you, and their assignment is consistently there. So I was like, what’s the fucking point?”
While belief in Chicago, Curtiss met her husband, the artisan Clinton King. Afterwards graduating, they went to Japan for a year, area she came beneath the access of comics and Manga, which led her to a added clear style. The brace afterwards confused to New York, and for a abounding year, Curtiss formed as a collapsed duke for Jeff Koons. “It wasn’t absolutely accessory for an art career,” she said. She abdicate afterwards she angry 30.
In 2011, her bedmate was thumbing through job listings aback he spotted a gig at the collapsed of Brian Donnelly, bigger accustomed as KAWS. At the time, Donnelly was accepting austere momentum, accepting been best up by the continent-conquering Perrotin Arcade two years earlier, and was in the action of rolling out his all-embracing “Companion” series.
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“I beatific my visuals, and Brian best it because he acquainted a affiliation and interest,” she said. “He saw article in the work, so that’s area we aboriginal connected.”
Working for KAWS wasn’t the cog-in-the-machine collective that was the Jeff Koons factory, but it did crave precision. While they attending machine-pressed, all KAWS paintings are hand-made, and Curtiss was appropriate to charm by duke his crisp interpretations of blithely atramentous animation characters.
“His assignment is absolutely anal, it was so adamantine to make,” she said. “But he absolutely fabricated me a added accomplished and bigger painter. And the collapsed backgrounds, the shadows—I never did caliginosity in my assignment afore alive with him.”
Donnelly additionally provided Curtiss with her aboriginal big acknowledgment aback he put some of her works on Instagram, bringing her assignment to his millions of followers.
“There’s a lot of KAWS collectors who acquire followed my assignment because Brian answer my assignment via Instagram,” she said. “Some of Brian’s supporters were additionally aboriginal supporters of mine.”
Julie Curtiss, Party Down (2016). Address of Phillips.
By 2015, Curtiss developed the appearance that would ascertain her. There were Dali-esque tropes (lobsters, crocodiles) declared with the Midwestern beheld accuracy of the Imagists, with a adumbration of Manga and a KAWS-ian alloy of Pop and artery art. But she was hardly an brief success.
“For addition like me who had aught for 15 years, not affairs a work, accomplishing shows but not abounding at all, I apperceive what it’s like,” she said. “So aback it started to aces up, I started accepting offers from Instagram, but I said, ‘I’m activity to delay until I acquire a arcade show.’”
Spots in accumulation shows led to a abandoned berth curated by Hein Koh at the 2017 copy of SPRING/BREAK, the curator-driven accessory fair that runs alongside Armory Week in New York. And while she didn’t acquire arcade representation yet, apparel were circling. That year, Sultana in Paris and Various Baby Fires in Los Angeles included her in accumulation shows, as did the London assertive White Cube.
It was about afresh that Mulholland, the Anton Kern director, started talking up Julie’s assignment to her boss. “I aloof bethink actuality in Basel in 2017, and I alleged you,” Mulholland said to Curtiss during my appointment to her studio. “And I said, ‘Don’t advertise anything.’ I was like, ‘We gotta talk.’ The bodies who are talking about you—I knew article was activity to appear here.”
That aforementioned year, she bought a assignment by Curtiss out of her aboriginal New York abandoned appearance at 106 Green. “I said, I can’t be an idiot here,” Mulholland told me. “I’m never activity to acquire this befalling again.”
Before long, Mulholland assertive Kern to appointment Curtiss’s Bushwick studio. “Pretty abundant appropriate away, I anticipation she was special,” Kern said. “She acutely has one bottom in art history and yet is blame the envelope of what can be done in painting and sculpture.” (Curtiss remembers his aboriginal appointment to her collapsed differently. “Anton was like, ‘I don’t know, I don’t know,’” she recalled.)
In 2018, Mulholland included Curtiss in a accumulation appearance blue-blooded “10” at Anton Kern, afterwards which Kern went to appointment her afresh at her collapsed and formally arrive her to accompany the gallery’s stable. She accepted, and had her aboriginal abandoned show, “Wildfire,” with the arcade this accomplished April.
A appearance of “Julie Curtiss: Wildlife” at Anton Kern Gallery. Address Anton Kern.
It was about that time that the accessory bazaar started to booty notice.
“I aboriginal saw her assignment at SPRING/BREAK, and I admired it,” said Rebekah Bowling, the arch of the day bargain at Phillips. “I lived beyond the artery from The Hole, and she was in the ‘Post Analogue Painting’ accumulation show, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, are any of these still available?’ And they actually laughed at me. That’s aback I knew how abysmal the appeal was.”
Later, Bowling would become complex in the Curtiss bazaar on the affairs side. Afore Curtiss’s aboriginal abandoned appearance opened at Anton Kern, the beneficiary who owned Princess consigned the assignment to Phillips, and Bowling slotted it into the afternoon sale, historically a advertise for adolescent artists beginning to auction.
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There was every acumen to acquire the consignment, but sources acquaint me the ancestry was a bit tangled.
The archive inaccurately lists the consignor as the work’s aboriginal purchaser. In fact, it was aboriginal bought by an aboriginal Curtiss adherent from an afoot amplitude alarm Field Projects, a arcade area 80 percent of exhibitions appear by way of accessible submissions. Afterwards purchasing it for $1,350, that adherent awash it to a beneficiary in Miami for $8,000—and afresh that beneficiary addled it for a bulk in the ambit of $20,000. That final client boarded the assignment to Phillips, alike admitting Anton Kern Arcade offered to affix them to a clandestine collector.
Despite these backstage machinations, the prices Princess traded for, in hindsight, all assume astonishingly low.
“The aboriginal time we accompany an artisan to auction, I appetite the appraisal to be at the primary, and the primary at that time was $8,000,” Bowling said, answer how she priced the work. “That’s area I was. I was determined about appraisement it there.”
When Curtiss’s appearance opened at Anton Kern in April, it awash out quickly, which fed belief about the Phillips sale. How aerial would Princess go?
After it formed at $85,000, I asked Kern if he had apparent such aerial prices coming.
“I’m not a taste-maker,” Kern said. “No, I didn’t apprehend all of this.”
Julie Curtiss, Pas de Trois (2018). Photo address Christie’s.
In the aftermost six months, prices for Curtiss’s primary bazaar acquire inched up. In July, a new painting, Breeders (2019), was for bargain through the Brooklyn arcade Clearing for $24,000. In December, Kern awash Outlook (2019) at a agnate bulk point to a beneficiary at Art Basel Miami Beach.
But prices on the accessory bazaar attempt up to addition stratosphere.
A beneficiary paid $262,086 for Hotel (2018) at Christie’s London in October. In November, Second Anticipation (2017) awash at Phillips New York for $250,000. The abutting day, there were two sales in a distinct night: Party Bottomward (2016) awash at Phillips for $400,000, and Pas De Trois (2018) awash at Christie’s for $423,000.
It doesn’t advice that in the accomplished year, Curtiss’s assignment has become a admired on the flipping set.
Kathy Grayson, who bought Party Bottomward at SPRING/BREAK for $3,000, awash the assignment to a adjudicator who afresh begin a Miami client to acquirement it for $165,000. Then that client boarded it to Phillips, area it awash for $400,000.
Pas de Trois had already afflicted easily from the actuality who bought it from Various Baby Fires in aboriginal 2018. That aboriginal client awash it to the Los Angeles banker Niels Kantor, who boarded it to Christie’s in 2019. Estimated at $100,000 to $150,000, the assignment awash for $423,000.
By the end of 2019, baby paintings were actuality offered for $250,000—more than bifold what Curtiss’s bargain almanac was aloof a few months earlier.
Mulholland said that, aback bodies went through her to resell, she gave Curtiss a cut, but that she actively approved to abstain accepting to accord with these issues in the aboriginal place.
“When the Various Baby Fires appearance came up, I came to them and I was like, ‘These charge to go to iron-clad homes,’” Mulholland said. “I doubtable there would be article advancing to bargain in 2019. We’re aggravating to assure adjoin flipping as abundant as possible.”
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“It’s figuration, it’s incredible, accomplished work, it’s on trend, and it’s adamantine to get—and that ache creates a frenzy,” she said later. “But that aberration is dangerous. And you don’t appetite that aberration to affect the way that assignment is perceived.”
Julie Curtiss, Outlook (2019) [detail]. Photo: Anton Kern Gallery.
But abounding abide skeptical—and alike hostile. I had sources acquaint me they were boycotting alike seeing the appearance at Anton Kern. It’s been said that Jim Nutt, a Chicago legend, is not a fan.
“People belittle at it,” Mulholland admitted. “She and I get trolled on one of those accounts, @itstimetostopnow,” Mulholland went on, apropos to the semi-anonymous call-out Instagram. “I fought back, and afresh he deleted my comments and blocked me.”
She afresh called a few arresting macho dealers, names not to be printed, who acquire “shit-talked Julie repeatedly, to my face. And I’m like, ‘Fuck you guys, you’re wrong,’” she said.
The abutting step, then, is to accompany angary through admittance in building collections. “We’re consistently alive on accepting the assignment into institutions, and in today’s mural that’s decidedly important,” Kern said.
“There’s annihilation amiss with actuality a bazaar artist, but it is alarming for old-school collectors,” Mulholland said. “At a assertive point, if you don’t acquire institutional support, the quote-unquote ‘real collectors’ are not activity to buy it, because afresh it’s article else—it’s not the affair that you apperceive lasts.”
“And she is the affair that lasts,” Mulholland said.
A anthology in Curtiss’s studio. Photo: Nate Freeman.
At one point in our conversation, Curtiss brought up the actuality that abounding reporters, myself included, acquire been autograph about her primarily because of bargain results.
“All I see in agreement of columnist is aloof about the bargain prices, and it’s a little frustrating,” she said. “And all the accessories are like, ‘Are you activity to survive this?’ Allocution about the art then, if you’re anxious about it.”
I said that I capital to address about her practice. It was a advantage to appear to the collapsed and to see her sketchbook. Curtiss took me through the action of how she layers the canvases over the advance of months. She works on assorted paintings at once, recoloring them and applying new ambit of mania, deepening the surreal qualities to accomplish authentic eyeball shock, concealment in atramentous and gray for abyss that betrays how amplitude works.
But the absoluteness is, the works are affairs for a lot of money, abounding times the bulk alike the best acknowledged artisan can anytime achievement for. (Christina Ramberg’s bargain almanac is still aloof $45,000.) That is a big allotment of Curtiss’s adventure at the moment.
“It’s flattering, but I appetite a beneficiary to aggregate my assignment because they like it, and they appetite to alive with it,” she said. “But aback there’s so abundant speculation, bodies stop seeing the artwork for what it is, they aloof see the dollar signs. I’m not authoritative a product, I’m not hiring 50 people, I’m painting the paintings myself. Every assignment is special.”
More assignment is coming. Curtiss is planning on authoritative the better works she has anytime attempted. She’s accepting a abandoned berth at FIAC in October with Anton Kern Gallery. And there are additionally rumors that a assertive arcade that acclimated to represent her coach is potentially absorbed in signing her for European and Asian representation, alongside Kern. A antecedent initially wouldn’t acquaint me which arcade that was, but I estimated it. It wasn’t hard. Julie was included in a appearance at Perrotin—the ex-gallery of KAWS—in Seoul in April.
And gradually, she’s actuality placed in the aforementioned ambience as the Chicago Imagists—not as an admiration or a reference, but as a Julie Curtiss.
“The academician collectors see you in that context,” Mulholland said in the studio, attractive at Curtiss. “You’re in an art accumulating area you’re blind abutting to a Roger Brown.”
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“That’s so amazing,” Curtiss said, attractive at her dealer.
“That’s area you should be,” Mulholland said.
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