Phillips Exhibition Sale Another Sign of Rising Market Interest in Contemporary Native And Indigenous Art

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in On Balance, the ARTnews newsletter about the art market and beyond. Sign up here to receive it every Wednesday. aslidomino

Hot off the heels of several major Indigenous art exhibitions last year and the selection of Jeffrey Gibson as the first Indigenous artist to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale, Phillips auction house has opened a selling exhibition of contemporary Indigenous and Native art at its New York headquarters on Park Avenue. The show, which runs through January 23, is just the latest sign that the art market has taken increasing interest in works by such artists, while also acting as a reminder of how many Native and Indigenous artists have been undervalued, marginalized, and misunderstood for decades.

“They have been making good work, showing their work, sometimes with galleries, sometimes not, but in other situations, doing their work consistently, for a long time,” Mary Sabbatino, vice-president and partner of Galerie Lelong, told ARTnews.

The works on display in “New Terrains” span seven decades, a broad array of mediums, and more than 60 artists—including Kent Monkman (Cree), Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (Citizen of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Nation), and Fritz Scholder (Luiseño). While the Phillips website lists every work as “price on request,” a spokesperson told ARTnews the works range from $5,000 to close to $1 million. aslidomino

ARTnews spoke to a dozen gallerists, artists, art advisers, and curators about the biggest signals behind this apparent shift, why traditional data points don’t apply, and what still needs to change to ensure interest in Indigenous and Native artists continues to grow.

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (Confederated Salish and Kootenai)
oil and mixed media mounted on canvas
60 x 50 in. (152.4 x 127 cm)
Executed in 1998.
Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, My Heart Belongs to Daddy, 1998. Courtesy of Phillips.COURTESY OF PHILLIPS

Scott Nussbaum, Phillips deputy chairman for Americas and senior international specialist, 20th century and contemporary art, told ARTnews that the auction house did not have internal expertise to organize the exhibition and very little sales data outside of a few artists like Smith, prompting him to bring in a trio of curators after he visited the the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas early last year and met with Bruce Hartman, that museum’s former executive director and chief curator. The Phillips show was curated by Hartman, along with artist Tony Abeyta (Navajo), and gallerist and curator James Trotta-Bono.

“It was so important that this wasn’t Phillips’s interpretation of what Native American art looks like, that we were more or less the vehicle for the real experts to tell the story,” Nussbaum said at the exhibition’s opening reception on Saturday. aslidomino