A SCULPTURAL PAINTING by Titus Kaphar set an artist record today. “Tina Vesper,” a portrait of a Reconstruction-era woman who could pass for white, is partially shrouded with un-stretched canvas. The 2009 painting sold for $40,000 (including fees) at Phillips 20th Century and Contemporary Art Day Sale in New York, exceeding its estimate of $10,000-$15,000*. Phillips noted the record in its sales results report.

Works by Kerry James Marshall (Untitled, 1996), Kehinde Wiley (“Cameroon Study,” 2010), and Rashid Johnson (“A Place for Black Moses,” 2010) were also featured in the Nov. 15 sale. Lots by David Hammons and Oscar Murillo went unsold.

The Kaphar painting was acquired from Roberts & Tilton Gallery, where it was presented in the 2009 exhibition “Reconstruction,” the artist’s first show in Los Angeles. At the time, the gallery said his work “initiates a contemporary dialogue with history,” which remains an apt description today. History is at the center of his evolving practice. He interacts with history, reinterprets history, and explores factual and imagined histories.

“Tina Vesper” is associated with The Vesper Project, the artist’s five-year engagement with the Vesper family, a mixed-heritage clan with Brazilian roots, that passes for white in 19th century New England. Kaphar conjured the outlines of the family’s history and experiences when he realized some memories of his own family members were inaccurate. The Vesper narrative collapses time and blends autobiography and fiction. The project yielded a series of works and an immersive exhibition.

About his work, Kaphar has said, “I’ve always been fascinated by history: art history, American history, world history, individual history – how history is written, recorded, distorted, exploited, reimagined, and understood. In my work I explore the materiality of reconstructive history. I paint and I sculpt, often borrowing from the historical canon, and then alter the work in some way. I cut, crumple, shroud, shred, stitch, tar, twist, bind, erase, break, tear, and turn the paintings and sculptures I create, reconfiguring them into works that nod to hidden narratives and begin to reveal unspoken truths about the nature of history.”

“I’ve always been fascinated by history: art history, American history, world history, individual history – how history is written, recorded, distorted, exploited, reimagined, and understood.” — Titus Kaphar

KAPHAR, WHO SPLITS HIS TIME between New York and Connecticut, earned an MFA from the Yale School of Art. In 2009, he was the inaugural recipient of the Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Fellowship. The distinction included an exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum, “History in the Making,” which was on view at the same time “Reconstruction” was presented at Roberts & Tilton.

In late 2014, Time magazine commissioned Kaphar to paint the Ferguson, Mo., protestors who stood up against the police killing of Michael Brown. His work is currently featured in “Making History Visible” at the Princeton University Art Museum. The show is part of a campus-wide initiative examining the university’s ties to slavery. (Kaphar is giving a related talk on Nov. 16.)

According to Phillips, Kaphar’s previous high mark was set Dec. 15, 2015, when an early painting by the artist sold at Swann Auction Galleries in New York. “Asphalt,” which was executed in 2000, garnered $12,500 (including fees). CT


TOP IMAGE: Lot 308: TITUS KAPHAR, “Tina Vesper,” 2009 (oil on canvas with wood, unstretched canvas, thread and string). | Estimate $10,000-$15,000. Sold for $40,000 (including fees)


* Sale prices at Phillips include premium fees, estimates do not account for fees.


READ MORE about artist resale rights


Titus Kaphar gave a TED Talk in April 2017. During the presentation he white washes a 17th-century Frans Hals painting to demonstrate the concepts behind his practice. | Video by TED


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