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“Drown” by Njideka Akunyili Crosby sold for more than $1 million at Sotheby’s New York on Nov. 17, 2016. | via Sotheby’s

 

MANY ARTISTS GO OUT OF THEIR WAY to make clear that the issues raised in their work serve to start a conversation rather than reflect their own opinion and the figures they depict are not real people, but rather are anonymous or composites. The approach of Njideka Akunyili Crosby is quite the opposite. Her collage paintings of domestic life—gatherings of family and friends—reflect her own story, her Nigerian heritage and evolving cultural experiences as a Los Angeles-based artist. Her more intimate scenes are self portraits depicting moments with her Texas-born husband, Justin Crosby, who is white.

One such painting, has set a record at auction for Akunyili Crosby, selling for more than $1 million. “Drown” captures the artist and her husband reclining in a loving embrace, composed with her signature photo collages—images from Nigerian pop culture, politics, and advertisements, as well her archive of family snapshots. The 2012 painting, an acrylic, colored pencil and solvent transfer on paper, was offered at Sotheby’s New York on Nov. 17. The lot, measuring 60 x 72 inches, sold for $1,092,500 (including fees), more than three times the estimate of $200,000 to $300,000.

Six bidders vied for “Drown,” according to the New York Times. The painting presents a bold image, both visually and in terms of narrative. In a tender moment, Akunyili Crosby’s black body finds comfort with her husband’s white body. The intimate composition pairs dark and light color fields in the couple’s skin tones and the background with a voyeuristic presence of historic, community and familial figures.

FOR MOST AMERICANS, interracial marriage and images of interracial intimacy are not a big deal. The contemporaneous release of “Loving” provides some historical context. The new film is a quiet portrayal about the Lovings, a married Virginia couple that after being jailed, because he was white and she was black, took its case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The 1967 ruling overturning state laws prohibiting interracial marriage, serves as a reminder that laws criminalizing miscegenation are just two generations removed. The record-setting success of “Drown” comments on the bending arc of social norms and growing market interest in Akunyili Crosby’s practice and perspective.

“I think of myself as a woman, an Ibo woman, a Nigerian, an African, a person of color, an artist, and the fascinating thing is that the layers I add to how I identify myself changes over time,” the artist says in a Tate museum video. “It just keeps broadening as I move farther out into the world.”

“I think of myself as a woman, an Ibo woman, a Nigerian, an African, a person of color, an artist, and the fascinating thing is that the layers I add to how I identify myself changes over time. It just keeps broadening as I move farther out into the world.” — Njideka Akunyili Crosby

THE MILLION DOLLAR AUCTION RECORD is the second high mark for the artist in two months. On Sept. 29, Sotheby’s New York sold a more modest sized painting (42 x 27 1/8 inches) by Akunyili Crosby in its Contemporary Curated sale. The untitled 2011 work also far exceeded expectations and set what was then a record for the artist, selling for $93,750 (including fees) against an estimate of $18,000-25,000.

The Times reports that Victoria Miro, the artist’s London gallery, has a list of museums waiting to purchase her “limited output” (she reportedly completes five or six paintings a year) and states that primary market prices for her work are less than $100,000.

Following Art Basel in June, the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Fla., announced it had acquired “Super Blue Omo” by Akunyili Crosby. The painting depicts a woman seated on a sofa by a lamp with a pink shade. The Florida museum presented “Njideka Akunyili Crosby: I Refuse to be Invisible,” the first museum of the artist’s work, earlier this year.

Next year, the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum at Skidmore College is organizing “Opener 30: Njideka Akunyili Crosby – Predecessors.” The exhibition opens at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, in July, and travels to the Tang in October. CT

 

BOOKSHELF
Coinciding with her first museum show at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Fla., “Njideka Akunyili Crosby: I Refuse to be Invisible” is the first catalog to focus on the practice of Nigerian-born, London-based artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby.

 

njideka-akunyili-crosby-untitled-2011
An untitled 2011 painting by Njideka Akunyili Crosby sold as Sotheby’s New York for $93,750 (including fees) on Sept. 29, 2016. | via Sotheby’s

 

Njideka Akunyili Crosby %22Super Blue Omo,%22 2016 - Victoria Miro Gallery
“Super Blue Omo” by Njideka Akunyili Crosby was acquired by the Norton Museum of Art at Art Basel in June 2016. | Courtesy Norton Museum of Art