NightTime Swimmers, 2018.
Revered for her luminous canvases populated by ambiguous swimmers, superheroes, and UFOs in space or in oceanic scenes, this past August, the Maine- and New York–based artist Katherine Bradford received the 2021 Rappaport Prize from deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Massachusetts. The annual $35,000 prize recognizes contemporary artists with a connection to New England; prior recipients include Titus Kaphar, Sam Durant, and Ursula von Rydingsvard. Bradford winning the Rappaport Prize adds to an already long list of accomplishments—largely achieved in the last two decades—that includes institutional support, grants, and fellowships, as well as an increasing demand for her otherworldly works on the primary and secondary markets.
Born in 1942, Bradford didn’t begin receiving solo exhibitions until 1991, four years after she earned her MFA from SUNY Purchase in New York. These first shows were at New York’s Victoria Munroe Fine Art and Ohio State University and were succeeded by three more solo presentations of the artist’s work in 1992, ’93, and ’94 at Chicago’s Zolla/Lieberman Gallery, Boston’s Bernard Toale Gallery, and New York’s David Beitzel Gallery, respectively. This string of solo shows in the early 1990s helped lay the foundation for further institutional recognition and acclaim. In 2000, she was the recipient of the prestigious Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant; a year later, Bradford participated in her first biennial at Maine’s Portland Museum of Art. In 2011, Bradford’s work made its first secondary-market appearance when an oil-on-canvas work depicting two sails billowing in a sea of blue and green waves, Winds from the East, sold for $1,320—a little over its low estimate of $1,200—at the Maine auction house Barridoff Galleries. This debut on the auction circuit coincided with Bradford’s receipt of the Guggenheim Fellowship. In the last decade, Bradford has also been awarded the Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant and received her first solo museum show at Maine’s Bowdoin College Museum of Art.While Bradford’s work first appeared at auction 10 years ago, all of the artist’s top 10 auction records have been achieved in the last two years. The artist’s top auction record was set this past March when her dreamlike acrylic-on-canvas work Couples Swimming (2015) sold for $50,400—surpassing its high estimate of $45,000—at a Phillips sale in New York. This recent result falls in line with Bradford’s primary market. At the 2019 edition of Art Basel in Miami Beach, the New York–based gallery Canada sold the artist’s large-scale figurative work Queen Mary for $50,000. On Artsy, after steadily increasing for four years, the demand for Bradford’s whimsical works peaked in 2018, when the number of collectors inquiring on the artist’s paintings nearly doubled from the year before. The number of inquiries on her work have since plateaued, but have remained consistent year over year since that peak.
Two on Grass, 2013.
Following Bradford’s first two solo shows in 1991, the artist has since exhibited her work nearly every year in solo and group shows throughout the U.S. This growing demand is paralleled on Artsy where, thus far in 2021, the number of users following the artist on the platform has already increased by nearly 50 percent since 2020. Bradford’s exhibition cadence has kicked into high gear this year: Her work is currently being presented at a solo show, “lifeguards,” at kaufmann repetto in Milan, which is on view through October 9th. The artist’s work is also being shown in another solo exhibition, “Philosophers’ Clambake,” at Vermont’s Hall Art Foundation until November 28th. Next summer, Bradford will be the subject of a touring retrospective that will open at the Portland Museum of Art before traveling to three additional U.S. venues, which will likely further solidify Bradford’s increasingly steady market growth.