On Thursday evening, a flurry of glamorous spectators clutching programs and flutes of champagne settled into their seats on the seventh floor of Sotheby’s, waiting for the show to begin. With five international flags affixed above the main entrance, the auction house’s New York headquarters looks rather like an embassy, but busts rather than bureaucrats populate its halls.
For the next two and a half hours, the room watched attentively as work by established 20th century names like Ed Ruscha, Francis Bacon, and Cy Twombly sold for tens of millions of dollars, the numbers drifting by like dandelion fluff.
But Falling Woman (2020), a painting by a 27-year-old artist named Anna Weyant, was first on the docket. As soon as the clock struck 6, bids at $300,000, then $500,000 leapt out of the gate like thoroughbreds as Sotheby’s bidders shouted over one another, scrambling to claim the prize for their mysterious clients. When the dust settled, Weyant’s work had been won by an online bidder for $1.6 million, setting a new auction record for the painter.
On May 6, Gagosian announced they’d begun representing Weyant, making her the youngest artist on the juggernaut gallery’s inimitable roster. Art world buzz has been steadily accumulating around Weyant for the last three years, but even so, coups like this are uncommon, especially given the enormity of Gagosian’s influence on the world stage and the extremity of the artist’s youth.
Many artists toil in obscurity for a lifetime, literally, before selling a single piece of work, and obtaining gallery representation in a town as tough as New York City requires a delicate combination of skill, charisma and the right connections.
But Weyant, who earned a BFA in painting from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2017, has charted an extraordinary ascent on the market in seemingly no time at all.
“I first caught wind of Anna Weyant last summer,” Lucius Elliott, head of the Sotheby’s Now Evening auction, said. “I had various people asking me about her at the time, she had just had her first show at Blum & Poe. There was clearly a lot of appetite in the market for the works. They were very hard to access at a primary level, the show had sold out.”
The first piece by Weyant ever offered at auction, a drawing of long bare legs called Untitled, fetched nearly four times its estimate at Phillips last June. Barreling past expected results has turned out to be anything but a fluke for the young painter.
Josephine, a somber still life, sold for $513,900 over an estimate of $32,000-$58,000 at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in April, and in May, work by Weyant has Lot 1 placement at Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips. Her 2020 painting Summertime went for $1.5 million at Christie's on May 9 over an estimate of $200,000-$300,000, and on May 18, Phillips sold Weyant’s Buffet II for $730,000 over an estimate of $100,000-$150,000.
“These auction results also generate and drive a lot of attention,” Elliott said. “Rightly or wrongly, it’s something that people will notice, and the fact that she changed gallery representation towards the start of our view is also a relevant factor, especially Gagosian, which is the biggest gallery in the world.”
One glance at her work and you’ll likely understand the hype: Drawing from a muted palette that largely favors black, olive green, and peach, Weyant’s figurative paintings evoke a flurry of references (Dutch Old Masters, contemporary classicist John Currin, Shannon Cartier Lucy’s freaky domesticity) that suggest deep reverence for art’s past and present.
Weyant’s female figures are unmistakably contemporary with an edge of unease, and her paintings of objects offer unexpected pairings: beribboned handguns alongside delicate vases. Her paintings are feminist and frank but restrained; a little edgy, but nonthreatening.
Growing up in Calgary in Alberta, Canada, Weyant’s childhood was often “idyllic,” she told Artnet last year, if not necessarily art-centric. Combing through her past is a large part of the artist’s process: “It’s something I’ve been going back to through art over the last few years, my childhood and teen years and getting to where I am now,” she said to Artnet.
“I just recently found this old diary that I had written when I was like 13,” Weyant added to Artnet. “And like every other 13-year-old, I was a monster in so many ways. One of the entries said something to the effect of, ‘I had just been asked out by some boy, and then the next day he dumped me, and he was the love of my life and I was so heartbroken.’ And then I signed it by saying this girl—we’ll call her Stacey—’looked so fat today.’ Then, ‘Xo, Anna.’ Woe is me, I have this horrible breakup and then I burn someone down in the same breath.”
Everyone has probing questions about a fledgling superstar, and insiders have been tracking Weyant’s meteoric ascent with skepticism and wonder. In October, Artnet reported that Weyant was dating 76-year-old mega-dealer Larry Gagosian, sparking an avalanche of chatter. (Gagosian Gallery and Weyant declined to comment to The Daily Beast.)
According to Page Six, Gagosian and his longtime girlfriend, Chrissie Erpf, a senior director at the gallery, split in 2019. Later that year, Page Six reported Gagosian had started dating Holly Bawden, his 35-year-old former personal assistant.
“I think she is quite good,” art adviser Vasili Kaliman said of Weyant. “Her work is probably derivative of John Currin right now, but I think she’ll grow into her own thing. I think she would have been successful without being Larry Gagosian’s girlfriend, but the ascent wouldn’t have happened with such speed.”
Whispers of drama haven’t been confined to the artist’s personal life. Weyant’s first solo show, Welcome to the Dollhouse, took place at the Chinatown hotspot 56 Henry in 2019. The dozen paintings in Dollhouse show a group of girls in repose, playing cards or hiding behind a candelabra, and her painted dollhouse is inspired by one Weyant had growing up.
In 2021, Loose Screw, Weyant’s show with Blum & Poe in Los Angeles, further escalated her momentum. When Weyant linked up with Gagosian earlier this month, her new gallery made no mention of her shows with either 56 Henry or Blum & Poe in in their acquisition announcement, sparking rumors of a behind-the-scenes dustup.
“Anna was the assistant of an artist that I work with,” Ellie Rines, the owner of 56 Henry, said. (Rines declined to name the artist Weyant worked for.) “I went to [Weyant’s] studio, and her paintings had this chiaroscuro technique that I thought was really astounding. She was able to make these really flat, gorgeous surfaces, and I was really kind of amazed. She would improve drastically every few months. She was very dutiful about being in her studio painting all night. Anna’s someone who really loves painting and who really cares about the quality of the painting.”
“Ellie discovered Anna Weyant,” Bill Powers, an art dealer and the owner of Half Gallery, said. “When I brokered the sale of [Weyant’s] first painting to Larry Gagosian, I actually handed that deal off to Ellie, and Ellie made the sale.”
“I invoiced Larry because I was Anna’s gallerist at the time,” Rines said.
One insider at Sotheby’s on Thursday compared Weyant to Taylor Swift: Both are prodigies, as well as the targets of misogynistic gossip and heavy scrutiny of their dating lives.
“When someone becomes successful, people kind of forget that that’s a human being,” Rines said. “She’s a 27-year-old woman, and I think it’s really wild that men, mostly middle-aged men, are spreading all these rumors about her. I think it’s so pathetic.”
With a murderer’s row of wins under her belt, all eyes are on Weyant’s precociously charmed career, for better or for worse. What happens next?
“Certainly, given the results of the last week, works by Anna Weyant are clearly of interest at auction, there is clearly a depth of demand,” Elliott said. “We had a number of phones registered on the work before the sale took place, and that was evidenced by the result. But as to what’s next on the auction market, that will be determined by our consignors and our clients and the way the winds blow.”