Julie Mehretu, “Looking Back to a Bright New Future” (2003).

 

EARLY NEXT MONTH, major auction houses in New York and London are holding post-war and contemporary art sales. In anticipation of the first significant offerings of the year, Culture Type is assessing the state of art by black artists. In recent years, a cluster of contemporary artists including David Hammons, Mark Bradford, Julie Mehretu, and Glenn Ligon, have seen record sales and multi-million dollar prices ranking their work the most expensive at auction among living African American artists.

Work by under-recognized 20th century artists and living artists with longstanding careers is attracting newfound interest among collectors, too, along with museums and scholars. At auction Norman Lewis, John Biggers, Sam Gilliam, Martin Puryear, and Faith Ringgold, are among those achieving new auction records in recent years. Despite the new benchmarks, this sector of the market arguably remains undervalued.

High yields achieved at auction generally benefit artists in terms of elevating the overall value of the work they produce, influencing future primary market sales. However, unless an artist has consigned the work for auction themselves, which is rare, they do not directly reap any of the profits from the escalated prices that often result from frenzied bidding. The margins gained go to the consigner (a collector or dealer) re-selling the work.

READ MORE about legislative efforts to win artist resale rights/royalties

“Auction prices put a lot of pressure on the artist. Every time something like that happens, I feel a little bit like: ‘Why did you sell that? What’s going on here?’” Mehretu recently said in the New York Times about her $4.6 million auction record established in 2013.

The works featured below reflect the current auction market—the top 25 lots by black artists from 2014-2016, the highest price achieved by each artist during the period. CT

 

Mark-Bradford-Constitution-IV
MARK BRADFORD, “Constitution IV,” 2013 (mixed-media on canvas). | Estimate $3,095,830-$4,643,745. Sold for $5,848,796 (including fees). RECORD

 
1. Mark Bradford, “Constitution IV,” 2013
Sold for $5,848,796 (including fees) on Oct. 14, 2015 at Phillips London

READ MORE about “Constitution IV” on Culture Type

 

chris-ofili-holy virgin mary
CHRIS OFILI, “Holy Virgin Mary,” 1996 (acrylic, oil, polyester resin, paper collage, glitter, map pins and elephant dung on linen). | Estimate $2,196,600 – $2,824,200. Sold for $4,522,643 (including fees). RECORD

 
2. Chris Ofili, “The Holy Virgin Mary,” 1996
Sold for $4,522,643 (including fees) on June 30, 2015 at Christie’s London

READ MORE about the “Holy Virgin Mary” on Culture Type

 

i was somebody - detail
GLENN LIGON, Detail of “Untitled (I Was Somebody),” 1990, 2003 (oilstick, graphite and gesso on panel). | Estimate $1 million – $1.5 million. Sold for $3,973,000 (including fees). RECORD

 
3. Glenn Ligon, “Untitled (I Was Somebody),” 1990/2003
Sold for $3,973,000 (including fees) on Nov. 11, 2014 at Sotheby’s New York

READ MORE about “Untitled (I Was Somebody)” on Culture Type

 


DAVID HAMMONS, “Untitled,” 1978 (bamboo, phonograph record fragments, colored string and hair). | Estimate $3,000,000-$4,000,00, Sold for $3,525,000 (including fees).

 
4. David Hammons, “Untitled,” 1978
Sold for $3,525,000 (including fees) on May 12, 2014, at Christie’s New York

VIEW RECORD work by David Hammons on Culture Type

 


JULIE MEHRETU, “Looking Back to a Bright New Future,” 2003 (acrylic and ink on canvas). | Estimate $2,824,200-$3,922,500, Sold for $3,468,274 (including fees).

 
5. Julie Mehretu, “Looking Back to a Bright New Future,” 2003
Sold for $3,468,274 (including fees) on June 30, 2015, at Christie’s London

VIEW RECORD work by Julie Mehretu on Culture Type

 

Hurvin Anderson - Afrosheen
HURVIN ANDERSON, “Afrosheen,” 2009 (oil on canvas). | Estimate $510,900-$681,200. Sold for $2,246,481 (including fees). RECORD

 
6. Hurvin Anderson, “Afrosheen,” 2009
Sold for $2,246,481 (including fees) on July 1, 2014 at Christie’s London

READ INTERVIEW with British painter Hurvin Anderson on Culture Type

 

KJM - Plunge 1992
KERRY JAMES MARSHALL, “Plunge,” 1992 (acrylic and paper collage on canvas). | Estimate $1 million to $1.5 million. Sold for $2,165,000 (including fees). RECORD

 
7. Kerry James Marshall, “Plunge,” 1992
Sold for $2,165,000 (including fees) on May 10, 2016, at Christie’s New York

READ MORE about “Plung” by Kerry James Marshall on Culture Type

 

msrtin puryear - untitled - 1989
MARTIN PURYEAR, “Untitled,” 1989 (red cedar and pine ). | Estimate $600,000-$800,000. Sold for $1,805,000 (including fees). RECORD

 
8. Martin Puryear, “Untitled,” 1989
Sold for $1,805,000 (including fees) on May 13, 2014 at Christie’s New York

READ MORE about Martin Puryear and his largest-ever outdoor sculpture on Culture Type

 

El Anatsui - Paths to the Okro Farm
EL ANATSUI, “Paths to the Okro Farm,” 2006 (aluminum and copper wire). | Estimate $700,000-$1 million, Sold for $1,445,000 (including fees). RECORD

 
9. El Anatsui, “Paths to the Okro Farm,” 2006
Sold for $1,445,000 (including fees) on May 15, 2014 at Sotheby’s New York
 

njideka_akunyili_crosby_-_drown_-_2012
NJIDEKA AKUNYILI CROSBY, “Drown,” 2012 (acrylic, colored pencil and solvent transfer on paper). | Estimate $200,000-$300,000, Sold for $1,092,500 (including fees). RECORD

 
10. Njideka Akunyili Crosby, “Drown,” 2012
Sold for $1,092,500 (including fees) on Nov. 17, 2016 at Sotheby’s New York

READ MORE about “Drown” by Njideka Akunyili Crosby on Culture Type

 

M31670-1 002
NORMAN LEWIS (1909 – 1979), “Untitled,” circa 1958 (oil on linen canvas). Estimate $250,000-$50,000. Sold for $965,000 (including fees). RECORD

 
11. NORMAN LEWIS, “Untitled,” circa 1958
Sold for $965,000 (including fees) on Dec. 15, 2015 at Swann Auction Galleries, New York

READ MORE about Norman Lewis’s record-breaking painting on Culture Type

 

lynette yiadom-boakye - knave
LYNETTE YIADOM-BOAKYE, “Knave,” 2011 (oil on canvas). | Estimate $91,620-$122,160, Sold for $690,736 (including fees). RECORD

 
12. Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, “Knave,” 2011
Sold for $690,736 (including fees) on Oct. 16, 2015 at Christie’s London

READ MORE about “Knave” by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye on Culture Type

 

Detail Delux by Ellen Gallagher
ELLEN GALLAGHER, Detail of “Deluxe,” 2004-2005 (portfolio of 60 printed objects with aquatint, dry-point, photogravure, spit-bite, lithography, silkscreen, embossing, tattoo machine engraving, laser-cutting, collage, crystals, cut paper, enamel, glitter, gold leaf, gouache, graphite, oil, plasticine, polymer medium, pomade, toy eyeballs, watercolor and velvet on paper; Number 12 from an edition of 20 unique variations, plus five artist’s proofs and four printer’s proofs.). | Estimate $450,000-$550,000. Sold for $665,000 (including fees).

 
13. Ellen Gallagher, “Deluxe,” 2004-2005
Sold for $665,000 (including fees) on May 11, 2016, at Christie’s New York

VIEW RECORD for Ellen Gallagher and this work, another version of which sold for nearly $1 million in 2013

 

rug3 2619
FAITH RINGGOLD, “Maya’s Quilt of Life,” 1989 (acrylic on canvas and painted, dyed and pieced fabrics). | Estimate $150,000-$250,000. Sold for $461,000 (including fees). RECORD

 
14. FAITH RINGGOLD, “Maya’s Quilt of Life,” 1989
Sold for $461,000 (including fees) on Sept. 15, 2015, at Swann Auction Galleries, New York

READ MORE about Swann auction of Maya Angelou’s art collection on Culture Type

 


JOHN BIGGERS (1924-2001), Kumasi Market,” 1962 (oil and acrylic on masonite board). | Estimate $100,000-$150,000. Sold for $389,000 (including fees). RECORD

 
15. JOHN BIGGERS, Kumasi Market,” 1962
Sold for $389,000 (including fees), on Sept. 15, 2015, at Swann Auction Galleries, New York
 


OSCAR MURILLO, “Untitled,” 2012 (oilstick, spray paint, oil, dirt on canvas). | Estimate $100,000-$150,000. Sold for $389,000 (including fees)

 
16. OSCAR MURILLO, “Untitled,” 2012
Sold for $389,000 (including fees) on May 15, 2014, at Phillips New York
 


THEASTER GATES, “For Race Riots and Salon Gatherings,” 2011 (wood, glass and hoses, in six parts). | Estimate $380,750-$533,050. Sold for $369,328 (including fees). RECORD

 
17. THEASTER GATES, “For Race Riots and Salon Gatherings,” 2011
Sold for $369,328 (including fees) on Feb. 11, 2015, at Christie’s London
 


LUCIEN SMITH, “Two Side of the Same Coin,” 2012 (acrylic on unprimed canvas). | Estimate $65,768-$98,652. Sold for $369,123 (including fees)

 
18. LUCIEN SMITH, “Two Side of the Same Coin,” 2012
Sold for $369,123 (including fees) on Feb. 12, 2014, at Sotheby’s London
 


BARKLEY L. HENDRICKS, “Steve,” 1976 (oil, acrylic and Magna on linen canvas). | Estimate $120,000-$180,000. Sold for $365,000 (including fees). RECORD, TIE

 
19. BARKLEY L. HENDRICKS, “Steve,” 1976
Sold for $365,000 (including fees) on April 2, 2015, at Swann Auction Galleries, New York
 


BARKLEY L. HENDRICKS, “Tuff Tony,” 1978 (oil and acrylic on linen canvas,). | Estimate $120,000-$!80,000. Sold for $365,000 (including fees) RECORD, TIE

 
20. BARKLEY L. HENDRICKS, “Tuff Tony,” 1978
Sold for $365,000 (including fees) on Dec. 15, 2015, at Swann Auction Galleries, New York
 

Sam Gilliam - Empty
SAM GILLIAM, “Empty,” 1972 (acrylic on canvas). | Estimate $18,000-$22,000. Sold for $317,000 (including fees). RECORD

 
21. SAM GILLIAM, “Empty,” 1972
Sold for $317,000 (including fees) on Nov. 11, 2015, at Christie’s New York

READ MORE about Sam Gilliam’s record sale at Christie’s

 


KARA WALKER, “Untitled,” 2004 (cut paper on canvas). | Estimate $200,000-$300,000. Sold for $225,000 (including fees).

 
22. KARA WALKER, “Untitled,” 2004
Sold for $225,000 (including fees) on Nov. 17, 2016 at Phillips New York
 


JACK WHITTEN, “Midnight Stripper,” 1973 (acrylic on canvas). | Estimate $40,000-$60,000 Sold for $197,000 (including fees). RECORD

 
23. JACK WHITTEN, “Midnight Stripper,” 1973
Sold for $197,000 (including fees) on Sept. 30, 2015 at Christie’s New York
 


RASHID JOHNSON, “Born by the River,” 2011 (branded red oak flooring, black soap, wax, paint). | Estimate $100,000-$150,000. Sold for $197,000 (including fees). RECORD

 
24. RASHID JOHNSON, “Born by the River,” 2011
Sold for $197,000 (including fees) on Nov. 13, 2014, at Phillips New York
 


WANGECHI MUTU, “Try Dismantling the Little Empire Inside You,” 2007 (ink, Mylar, pigment and photo collage, in 2 parts). | Estimate $200,000-$300,000. Sold for $187,500 (including fees).

 
25. WANGECHI MUTU, “Try Dismantling the Little Empire Inside You,” 2007
Sold for $187,500 (including fees) on Nov. 18, 2016, at Sotheby’s New York
 

This list is based on top sales for each artist from 2014-2016, but may not represent an artist record. An artist may have sold a more expensive work in previous years. For example, David Hammons basketball chandelier sold for more than $8 million (including fees) in 2013. The price remains the most expensive auction sale for a living African American artist. However, in the period reviewed here, his highest price at auction was $3.5 million in 2014. In addition, this list does not account for the eight-figure record-breaking sales achieved season after season by Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) as his remarkable yields are in a category unto themselves. Information sourced from Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Phillips, Swann, and Iris Index.