Updated: May 30
Rashid Johnson in the studio 2020 © Rashid Johnson Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth Photo: Axel Dupeux
Black American Artist
New York, NY
ArtMatch Value Score*: Strong
Rashid Johnson (b. 1977) moved to New York at age 28 with the ambition to be a successful artist. Now 46, Johnson is one of the most influential and in-demand artists of our time. In this post, we will explore the keys behind Johnson’s market success.
RECORD YEARS: 2021, 2022
Rashid Johnson is the top selling African American artist at auction still living. In 2022, over $10M worth of his paintings, sculptures and mixed media works were auctioned around the world. His market has grown significantly in the past two years with both the prices fetched by his work and the number of pieces offered at auction increasing. He achieved a new auction record in November of 2022 for his painting Surrender Painting Sunshine, which sold for $3M.
Surrender Painting "Sunshine", 2022
Oil on linen
72 x 96 in
Pricing for Johnson’s work has continued to climb over the past two years. Some of his highest selling pieces were donated works to benefit non-profit organizations (including Surrender painting “Sunshine”). But even when you exclude those works, the upward pricing trend still holds.
We will focus on three key factors that have contributed to Johnson’s market growth.
I. NEW WORK
In 2014, Johnson started working on a new series called Anxious Men. It featured wide eyed, abstract faces using quick gestural techniques, typically painted in black or red. Anxious Men stemmed from a personal battle with anxiety after Johnson stopped drinking. Johnson felt his anxiety intensify, particularly in social situations, without the “shield of alcohol”. As he continued to explore the theme, the series became more culturally relevant as societal angst increased during the rise of Trumpism in 2016.
Anxious Red Painting December 18th, 2020
Oil on linen
72 x 96 in
The Anxious Men series eventually led to the Broken Men series which began in 2018. This series depicted the Anxious Men faces but added new elements and materials, including shattered mirrors and colorful ceramic tile. These large scale works also incorporate techniques and materials found in Johnson’s earlier work, notably red oak flooring and black soap. This series coincided not only with the turbulent Trump presidency but also the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic was a time when (on mass scale) lives changed, were broken, or at bare minimum reassessed. The result in most cases was some form of rebuilding.
Standing Broken Men, 2020
Ceramic tile, mirror tile, branded red oak flooring, spray enamel, oil stick, black soap and wax
95 x 73 in
Works from the Anxious Men and Broken Men series accounted for 8 of his top 10 auction results in 2021 and 2022.
II. INTEGRITY AND ADAPTABILITY
Johnson has maintained the integrity of his practice by consistently exploring themes related to the multiplicities of identity. He identifies strongly as an African American man, but as he grows and matures, he layers on new identities which feed directly into his work. He sees the question of identity with great nuance. “[My work] is about how I identify and how I’ve grown in that identification – both realising when I should consider the collective nature of being a man, a black man, an American and a man in his forties, and also getting really granular with it: what are my obstacles? Which aspects of my life am I most interested in talking about? What are my character defects, and how do I start the process of unpacking some of those?”
By considering the collective nature of his identity along with the highly personal details and fusing both into his work, Johnson is able to create work that is grounded but still culturally relevant. This leads to cohesion across work from his 20+ year practice with a contemporary sensibility that constantly incorporates new information and insights.
When racial tensions reached a boiling point in the summer of 2020, Johnson’s work took on a new context. His work became more relevant, as it contributed to the dialogue around issues of racial inequality and Black identity. Johnson also actively shaped institutional responses to the movement. In his role as a board member of the Guggenheim Museum, he actively contributed to discussions around improving representation of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) artists within the museum’s collection. He also started and funded a program aimed at adding more diversity to the museum's staff.
Johnson’s market success in 2021 and 2022 was the result of a compelling new series of work that touched on modern sensibilities and resonated broadly. Being an artist with integrity who adapts with the times, Johnson will continue to make compelling work. Future growth in Johnson’s market will be based largely on his work continuing to have broad appeal within the US and internationally. The share of Johnson’s auction sales outside of the United States grew from 28% in 2021 to 36% in 2022, with the biggest growth coming from the European market. This coincided with a major solo exhibition in Menorca, Spain in 2022. This year, Johnson will have his first solo exhibition in Asia (Hong Kong) from March 20 through May 13th. The Asian market, which currently accounts for 17% of Johnson's auction sales, looks to be his next focus.
MORE ON RASHID JOHNSON
Watch Rashid Johnson discuss his practice with CNN Anchor, Don Lemon:
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*The ArtMatch Value Score is our assessment of the likelihood of the artist's work to hold or appreciate in value. Numerical scores are calculated based on a combination of variables, including but not limited to type of gallery representation, number of solo shows, quality of collector base, number of pieces sold at auction. Scores are summarized to one of three ranking categories: emerging, promising, and strong. Note this does not constitute official investment advice and is given purely as an input to help assess artists from a value perspective.