David Shrobe’s New Pandemic-Era Assemblage Works Draw Buyers, Museum Interest

David Shrobe, Transitions (2020). Courtesy Steve Turner Gallery, Los Angeles.

The contemporary art market has recently seen a flood of works made in the first stages of the coronavirus pandemic. Art fairs like Art Basel and blue-chip dealers like Gagosian with high-traffic online programs are shifting focus to works made this year. These brands are securing early sales with the strategy.

As dealers compete for collectors’ attention, smaller galleries are tasked with the challenge of standing out in the expanding digital marketplace. Some newcomers with nascent markets are still finding buyers. Among them is mixed media New York-based artist David Shrobe, whose debut solo exhibition with Steve Turner Gallery in Los Angeles closed on August 29. The show featured nine new assemblage works that were primarily made during New York’s several-month quarantine period from March to July.

His collage works are recognizable for their use of 19th century imagery, textiles and figuration. Critic Antwaun Sargent compares his use of materials to assemblage practices associated with David Hammons, Betye Saar, and Noah Purifoy. Shrobe is an artist whose work has escaped the speculative attention that several of his group exhibited peers have. The Skowhegan residency alum has had only two works come on the secondary market.

Despite opening with coronavirus pandemic restrictions still in place, Shrobe’s showcase drew stable interest among collectors. The gallery reported one small work was priced at $8,000 and the other eight works were sold at prices between $15,000 and $25.000. Six of the nine works in the exhibition were sold. One of the remaining works, titled Sanctuary is on reserve with a major American museum. Two others are currently being considered by collectors in Europe and the United States.

Shrobe’s contemporary portraiture has lately been the subject of institutional attention. His work has been featured in “Punch” a group show staged at Jeffrey Deitch in Los Angeles, curated by Nina Chanel Abney, alongside works by Amoako Boafo, Jordan Casteel, Jonathan Lyndon Chase and Tschabalala Self, among others.

His work also appeared in Stockholm’s CFHILL 2020 show “Black Voices/Black Microcosm.” In 2019, Jenkins John Gallery sold Bloodshot (2019) for $14,000 and Baptized by the Sound of Horns (2019) at the New York Armory show. It was curated by Lauren Haynes, Curator of Contemporary Art at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. One of his works was sold at the 2019 Annual Benefit & Auction, Independent Curators International (ICI) in 2019.

Several of Shrobe’s works reside in museum and notable private collections. In 2018, the Brooklyn Museum acquired Shrobe’s Battle Ground (2018) and Made of Star Stuff (2018). Others are in the Walton Family Private Collection, the Dean Collection, the Collection of the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation, and the Estate of Peggy Cooper Cafritz. Typically, a strong roster of recent museum support for new works is what specialists look for in bringing new talent to the middle market at auction.

The sale of Shrobe’s Protector (2018), marked the artist’s debut at auction when it sold at Christie’s ‘Vice’ sale this May. The piece sold for $15,000, more than three times its $4,000 low estimate. The seller acquired the work in the artist’s West-coast debut in 2018 at Jenkins Johnson Gallery in San Francisco. According to Isabella Lauria, postwar and contemporary art specialist at Christie’s New York, the work drew six bidders, including both existing and new clients. “Shrobe is still a relatively new artist, but he is clearly gaining traction given the strong participation in the Vice sale” said Lauria.

The Christie’s sale was an opportunity to bring cutting edge contemporary artists to buyers in a time of experimentation. The high bidding shows potential for Shrobe’s market. The artist will next present work with Turner in “Our World,” an online group exhibition which will feature gallery artists and will open on December 2.

The sales hint at the beginnings of an emerging secondary market. Unlike some of his peers in the group exhibitions, his market has yet to be targeted by speculators.

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