New York »wunderkind« − Ten years after his flight of fancy

Lucien Smith's new career in the country

Montauk, a village in the USA with 4,000 inhabitants nicknamed »The End«. This is the home of the artist Lucien Smith, who ten years ago shook up the New York art scene as a »wunderkind«. But it is not yet the end for him. In rural surroundings, Smith finds new creativity: »For the first time, I feel like a real artist.«

by Marius Damrow, November 22, 2022

In May 2011, Lucien Smith (*1989) exhibited publicly for the first time. The two-person graduation exhibition Imagined Nostalgia at the private college Cooper Union was judged outstanding by the New York Times − Smith became a star overnight. The then art student got off to the perfect start in life as an artist. By his early 20s, he had a studio and assistants, his gallery shows were sold out before they opened, and his works fetched top prices at auction.

Buyers quickly turned out to be speculators looking for a quick resale. After four years, prices fell as fast as they had risen. Smith's promising career was over, he had hardly earned anything from the high sales figures in the secondary market. Since 2015, he has been living in the village of Montauk, where he is rediscovering himself as an artist. In 2022, this phase seems to have ended to a certain extent: Smith now works in Los Angeles.

Example of price development of Lucien Smith

Lucien Smith - Boys Don\'t Cry
Contemporary Evening Sale
July 2014
Phillips, London Auction
Est.: 40.000 - 60.000 GBP
Realised: 116.500 GBP
Lucien Smith - Boys Don\'t Cry
20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale
June 2017
Phillips, London Auction
Est.: 30.000 - 50.000 GBP
Realised: 27.500 GBP

Short career in New York

In 2013, the painting Hobbes, The Rain Man and My Friend Barney/Under the Sycamore Tree fetched 389,000 US dollars at a Philips auction in New York - with an estimate of up to 150,000 US dollars. In 2019, the average sale price for a Smith work was just under 23,000 US dollars. The young artist experienced first-hand how much an artist's career depends on speculators − without being financially involved himself. Smith originally sold Hobbes, The Rain Man and My Friend Barney/Under the Sycamore Tree after his graduation exhibition for 10,000 US dollars, earning hardly anything from the high resales. He had to make this experience with many of his works.

Lucien Smith

Hobbes, The Rain Man, and My Friend Barney / Under the Sycamore Tree

Found at Phillips, New York
Contemporary Art Evening Sale, Lot 1
11. Nov - 11. Nov 2013
Estimate: 100.000 - 150.000 USD
Price realised: 389.000 USD

Art collectors were particularly taken with his large-format rain paintings, in which he sprayed acrylic paints onto the canvas with fire extinguishers. The new »wunderkind« failed due to the power of gallery owners and buyers. The early hype surrounding him prevented Smith from building a stable foundation for a long career of slowly growing prices. »I’m not against the art market and gallery system. I think it works to help generate resources for artists to grow exponentially«, Smith explains. »But that whole system has projected curriculum on the entire industry. It continues to be market-driven, and the artist is left out of those conversations.«

Of volcanoes and role models

In 2015, Smith leaves his gallery and the city of New York. He moves to the village of Montauk, where he reinvents himself as an artist and also as a person. The short, eventful career also plunges him privately into a deep crisis of meaning. In search of answers, he now lives in a village called »The End« by its inhabitants. It is located at the eastern end of Long Island and is famous in the USA for its lighthouse. In 1796, it was the first public building project in the United States. Here Smith returns to the roots of painter training: painting off. He transfers magazine and book covers, but mainly photographs of landscapes, into paintings.

He is particularly fascinated by images of volcanic eruptions. Volcanoes as givers of fertile ash and creators of the earth masses on which people live. Over time, a feeling of freedom sets in, free from the pressure of other people's expectations: »For the first time, I feel like a real artist«, Smith says of his development.

New orientation with Serving The People

Lucien Smith


Found at Phillips, New York Auction
New Now, Lot 223
26. Sep - 26. Sep 2018
Estimate: 6.000 - 8.000 USD
Price realised: 7.500 USD

He decides to be a real artistic role model this time. One that doesn't have money in mind, but creativity. In 2018, he revived the non-profit organisation STP (Serving The People), which has been around since 2013. Smith founded it back then when he noticed how much the hustle and bustle around his person took away from his enjoyment of creative work. He always had to think of possible sales prices and could not free himself in terms of content. He aspired to be the big star, always the youngest and best, reaching one milestone after another: » I wanted to be the youngest artist to ever to sell a work in auction over a million.«

Country life in Montauk, where, unlike New York, little money is needed for day-to-day living, has refocused his life and his thinking. Smith himself likes who he is again.


STP is Smith's not-for-profit platform where like-minded interdisciplinary arts practitioners can present their work − without the commercial bias of the art industry. He is concerned with creating a creative environment where criticism of works is not thought of in terms of money. »My Mona Lisa« is what Smith calls his project.

For the past few months, the still-young artist has been working far from Montauk in a studio in Los Angeles, the city of his birth. There he can operate »on a larger scale«; he has moved his residence back to New York. In December 2021, the artist released his first NFT project: SEEDS is a series of 10,000 images. Smith defined 40 colour and shape features that are randomly assembled by the computer to create the NFTs. One work in the SEEDS series cost 0.1 Ether (370 US dollars at the time) at the start, and the money is to be used in part to expand STP. Even before the launch, 15% of the NFTs found new owners.

But can the return to two major cities in the USA succeed without giving in to the old needs for (commercial) success? When asked by a Swiss journalist what his ten-year-plan is, Smith replies in the summer of 2022: » Stay alive long enough to be the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time).«Art.Salon

One of Smith's Rain Paintings

Lucien Smith

Two Sides Of The Same Coin

Found at Sothebys, London
Contemporary Art Evening Auction, Lot 1
12. Feb - 12. Feb 2014
Estimate: 40.000 - 60.000 GBP
Price realised: 224.500 GBP
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