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NEXT WEEK, SWANN AUCTION GALLERIES is selling African American art from the 1960s and 1970s. Paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures and mixed-media works are up for bid, with estimates for most of the 157 lots averaging $1,000-$7,000 and select offerings ranging up to five and six figures. Paintings by Barkley L. Hendricks and William T. Williams and sculptures by Noah Purifoy and Elizabeth Catlett ($150,000-$200,000) are among the top lots.

A quick browse of the extensive catalog copy for the June 10 sale reveals some interesting nuggets. For example, one of the most compelling works in the sale is a small sculpture by Purifoy composed of assembled wood, wood veneer and leather. The circa 1968-70 “Untitled (Standing Figure)” was purchased by sculptor Artis Lane in 1989 before Purifoy moved from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree, where he would live the rest of his life and set up his foundation.

“Truckin” (shown above), a colorful abstract by Williams was painted in 1969, the first year after he completed his MFA at Yale University, and is described as his earliest work to come to auction. Also, actor Jack Palance apparently collected several early Ernie Barnes paintings and one of them “Untitled (Football Game),” 1966-70, is included in the auction.

IMG_2294Most significantly, a remarkable number of the artists represented in the sale have been featured in recent museum and gallery exhibitions.

As Nigel Freeman mentioned in an interview with me a few months ago, Swann is being more intentional with its offerings, grouping lots by era and giving the sales titles that reflect the work. The forthcoming “The Shape of Things to Come: African-American Fine Art” auction follows “Points of Departure: Postwar African-American Fine Art” (October 2013) and “Shadows Uplifted: The Rise of African-American Fine Art,” which focused on Harlem Renaissance and WPA-era works (February 2014).

“Not using generic titles speaks to the complexity and richness of this area of the market,” said Freeman, director of Swann’s African-American Fine Art department.

This complexity and richness is being recognized by the larger art world where the critical reception and academic and curatorial regard for work produced by African American artists continues to slowly earn its just due. Among the artists included in the sale, an impressive number are being celebrated by museums and galleries in solo and group exhibitions and accompanying catalogs.

Among the artists included in the sale, an impressive number are being celebrated by museums and galleries in solo and group exhibitions and accompanying catalogs.

The auction house notes that many of the artists are a part of two important surveys that examine eras of protest and pride. “Now Dig This!: Art and Black Los Angeles, 1960-1980,” featuring Melvin Edwards, Suzanne Jackson, William Pajaud, Purifoy, Betye Saar, Raymond Saunders, Ruth Waddy and Charles White, was on view from 2011 to 2013 at UCLA’s Hammer Museum and MoMA PS1. “Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the 1960s,” the current exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, includes Benny Andrews, Romare Bearden, Frank Bowling, Edwards, Catlett, Sam Gilliam, Hendricks, Jacob Lawrence, Norman Lewis, Purifoy, Faith Ringgold, Bob Thompson, Saar, Merton D. Simpson and Williams.

Both exhibitions were curated by Kellie Jones, a professor of art history and archaeology at Columbia University, and share the same theme as the sale: “the rapid changes in both the art world and the nation, socially and politically, during the 1960s and 1970s.”

These shifts in the art world continue as evidenced in the fact that artists in the sale are represented in many more recent, major exhibitions across the country.

There are group shows:

    Works by Andrews, Purifoy and Kara Walker, appear in the Studio Museum in Harlem’s current “When the Stars Begin to Fall: Imagination and the American South.”

    Works by Charles Alston, Catlett, White and Hale Woodruff are included in “The Legacy of the Golden State Life Insurance Company: More Than a Business” at the California African American Museum through July 31, 2014. (Art from the Golden State collection was auctioned at Swann in 2007.)

    Earlier this year, group shows at Michael Rosenfeld have included Alston, Catlett, Robert Colescott, Eldzier Cortor, Ernest Crichlow, Bob Thompson and White (“Rising Up/Uprising”) and Beauford Delaney, Melvin Edwards, Sam Gilliam, Norman Lewis, Williams and Woodruff (“Beyond the Spectrum: Abstraction in African American Art, 1950-1975”), among others.

    “Our Stories: African American Prints and Drawings,” featuring Bearden, Willie Cole, Lawrence, Lorna Simpson, Walker and White, just concluded last month at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

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LOT 80: Barkley L. Hendricks, “Sergio,” oil and acrylic on canvas, 1972. Estimate $80,000 to $120,000 | Courtesy Swann Auction Galleries.


Along with solo exhibitions:

    Dawoud Bey participated in the 2014 Whitney Biennial. Photographs from his “Birmingham Project” appeared in the museum show and are on view at Mary Boone Gallery through June 29. Bey’s “Portraits in Context” exhibit runs through June 22 at the DePaul Art Museum. View Dawoud Bey lot.

    “Rising Up: Hale Woodruff’s Murals at Talladega College” is on view at the New Orleans Museum of Art through Sept. 14, 2014. View Hale Woodruff lots.

    “In the Tower” Kerry James Marshall‘s solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Art was on view last year. View Kerry James Marshall lot.

    Faith Ringgold‘s solo exhibition at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, “American People, Black Light,” was on view last year and “Groovin High,” her billboard exhibition on the High Line just concluded. (View image below.)

    Michael Rosenfeld Gallery represents Betye Saar and the estate of Benny Andrews and has presented a recent special installation (Saar) and solo exhibition (Andrews), featuring their work. View Betye Saar lots, and Benny Andrews lots.

    DC Moore Gallery presented a selection of prized Romare Bearden works earlier this year. “Romare Bearden: Insight and Innovation” concluded on April 19, 2014. View Romare Bearden lots.

    “Anything but Civil: Kara Walker‘s Vision of the Old South” is on view at the St. Louis Art Museum through Aug. 10, 2014. Meanwhile, “A Subtlety,” Walker’s sugar-coated, handkerchief-wearing sphinx is on view at the Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn. The large-scale public art project, her first, is garnering more attention and visitors than any other New York public art work in recent memory. View Kara Walker lots.

Public projects and museum exhibitions and acquisitions (sometimes at auction) raise the stature and market value of artists. Galleries often consign and purchase works at auction directly and on behalf of collectors and benefit when artists in their inventory record strong sales.

Seven years ago, when Swann began focusing on African American art, few, if any, of the artists were featured contemporaneously in exhibitions.

Seven years ago, when Swann began focusing on African American art, few if any, of the artists were featured contemporaneously in exhibitions. The change reflects the wider and more contemporary range of works offered at Swann and the inroads being made in the art world, where the African American market—from the 19th century to the present—is garnering greater interest among museums and collectors. At the same time, the increasingly vital market remains undervalued.

“The Shape of Things to Come” preview exhibition is underway at Swann and continues through the morning of the June 10 sale. In addition to works created in the 1960s and 70s, later more contemporary works are also included in the auction. A selection of lots for sale is featured below. View the entire catalog here. CT


“The Shape of Things to Come: African-American Fine Art,” Swann Auction Galleries, New York, June 10, 2014.


IMAGE AT TOP OF PAGE: LOT 61: William T. Williams, Detail of “Truckin,” acrylic on canvas, 1969. Estimate $75,000 to $100,000 | Courtesy Swann Auction Galleries.

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LOT 27: Walter Williams, “Southern Landscape,” oil and collage on board, 1963-64. Estimate $20,000 to $30,000 | Courtesy Swann Auction Galleries.


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LOT 35 (HAS BEEN REMOVED FROM THE SALE): Faith Ringgold, “The American People Series #15: Hide Little Children,” oil on canvas, 1966. Estimate $35,000 to $50,000 | Courtesy Swann Auction Galleries.

(As I was preparing this post, I discovered that Lot 35, the powerful Faith Ringgold painting shown above, had been removed from the online catalog. I reached out to Swann’s Nigel Freeman via email to learn of its fate and he promptly replied that the lot had been withdrawn from the sale. No further explanation as to why was offered.)


LOT 45: Noah Purifoy, Untitled (Standing Figure), assemblage construction, circa 1968-70. Estimate $60,000 to $90,000 | Courtesy Swann Auction Galleries.


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LOT 49: Betye Saar, “Untitled (Clock with Charms),” mixed-media assemblage, circa 1975. Estimate $6,000 to $9,000 | Courtesy Swann Auction Galleries.


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LOT 60: Alvin D. Loving Jr., “Untitled,” acrylic on canvas, circa 1969-70. Estimate $30,000 to $40,000 | Courtesy Swann Auction Galleries.


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LOT 74: Barbara Jones-Hogu, “UNITE,” color screenprint, 1971. Estimate $3,000 to $5,000 | Courtesy Swann Auction Galleries.


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LOT 85: Charles Alston, “Untitled (Figure Composition),” oil on canvas, circa 1974. Estimate $30,000 to $40,000 | Courtesy Swann Auction Galleries.


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LOT 115: Robert Colescott, “Lock and Key (State I),” color lithograph, 1989. Estimate $2,000 to $3,000 | Courtesy Swann Auction Galleries.


LOT 119: Elizabeth Catlett, Standing Figure, tropical wood and black enamel, 1986. Estimate $150,000 to $200,000 | Courtesy Swann Auction Galleries.


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