IN ANTICIPATION OF THE SPRING 2018 SALES at major auction houses in London this month, Culture Type is taking a look back at recent results at Sotheby’s. One of the benefits of observing auctions is the opportunity see works long held in private hands away from public view. The November 2017 Contemporary Day and Evening Sales at Sotheby’s New York offered a wide-range of works by African American artists, several acquired decades ago and never exhibited, others produced recently by some of the most acclaimed artists working today. Spanning three generations, featured artists included Alma Thomas and Elizabeth Catlett, as well as David Hammons, Frank Bowling, and Jack Whitten, plus Mark Bradford, Glenn Ligon, and Wangechi Mutu. Notable lots are featured below:


Lot 33: DAVID HAMMONS (b. 1943), “African American Flag,” 1990 (sewn fabric, edition of 10 plus two artist’s proofs, 95.5 x 60.75 inches). | Estimate $1,500,000—$2,000,000. Sold $2,175,000 (including fees)


The auctions included multiple lots from several collections. The above African American Flag came from a “prominent Midwest collection.” A similar work also produced in 1990 from a different edition, this one of 5, was sold last May in New York at Phillips, also for about $2 million, including fees.


Lot 65: DAVID HAMMONS (b. 1943), “Untitled,” 1975 (body print and mixed media on paper, on two sides, 40 x 30 inches). | Estimate $350,000-$450,000. Sold for $1,635,000 (including fees)


The sales included dozens of works from the Jerome and Ellen Stern Collection of New York. After her husband died, Stern consigned a portion of their collection, including many works by black artists, among them David Hammons (above), Wangechi Mutu (below), Simone Leigh, Yinka Shonibare, and Lynette Yiadom Boakye, whose painting of five black women in white dresses sold for more than $1.5 million, setting an artist record.

The Hammons two-sided body print (from left, the front and reverse are shown) sold for more than three times the estimate. The Sterns acquired the work in 2003 from Artemis Greenberg Van Doren Gallery, New York. It was featured in the 2006 exhibition “L.A. Object & David Hammons Body Prints” at Tilton Gallery, New York, and illustrated (the front image only) in the show’s catalog on pages 153 and 379.


Lot 71: WANGECHI MUTU (b. 1972), “A Dragon Kiss Always Ends in Ashes,” 2007 (ink, paint, mixed media, plant material and plastic pearls on Mylar, 53.25 x 101 3/8 inches). | $150,000-$200,000. Sold for $287,000 (including fees)


Lot 102: ALMA THOMAS (1891-1978), “Sign of Spring,” 1966 (oil on canvas, 26 x 18 inches). | Estimated $60,000-$80,000. Sold for $237,500 (including fees)


The above work by Alma Thomas (1966) and Lot 184, below, by Elizabeth Catlett (1947), were consigned by Audrey Adams and Lauren Maillian, mother-daughter collectors based in New York. Both paintings were acquired from Harold Hart, the director of Martha Jackson Gallery in New York, who was executor of Thomas’s estate.


Lot 117: SAM GILLIAM (b. 1933), “Diamas #1,” 1963 (acrylic on canvas, 36 x 36 inches). | $70,000-$90,000. Sold for $162,500 (including fees)


Lot 118: SAM GILLIAM (b. 1933), “Diamas #2,” 1963 (acrylic on canvas, 40 x 40 inches). | $70,000-$90,000. Sold for $100,000 (including fees)


Lot 120: FRANK BOWLING (b. 1936), “Untitled (Mother’s House),” 1966 (oil and silkscreen ink on 2 stapled canvases, 47 1/8 x 31 1/8 inches). | Estimate $100,000-150,000. Sold for $112,500 (including fees)


Guyanese-born Frank Bowling moved from London to New York in 1967, the year after he made the above painting. The new base marked his transition from figuration to abstraction, the style for which he is known today. The lot’s catalog note provides some background about the image of the house in the painting, which is also referenced in the title. The citation comes from an essay by Mel Gooding (“Frank Bowling,” London 2011, pp. 35-37):

“At Camberwell sometime in 1964, not yet knowing how he would use the image-motif (or how often!), he amassed a stockpile of canvas pieces bearing the image of his mother’s emporium – always referred to by Bowling as ‘mother’s house’ – screenprinted in red or green. For Bowling the image clearly had a powerful emotional resonance: it would become a recurring thematic reference point, a motif that carried the allusive charge of a memory of home, a signature intimation of origins.” (Bowling taught at Camberwell College of Arts in south east London.)


Lot 182: BARKLEY L. HENDRICKS (1945-2017), “Untitled,” 1967-68 (oil on canvas, 40 x 32 inches). | Estimate $100,000-$150,000. Sold for $200,000 (including fees)


Recognized for his masterful portraits conveying the style, attitude, and individuality of his subjects, Philadelphia-born Barkley L. Hendricks began the flag painting above in 1967, the same year he earned a certificate from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. After he graduated from PAFA, Hendricks enlisted in the New Jersey National Guard. The consignor acquired the painting from Kenmore Gallery in Philadelphia.


Lot 184: ELIZABETH CATLETT (1915-2012), “Untitled,” 1947 (oil on canvas, 10 1/8 x 8 1/8 inches). | Estimate $60,000-$80,000. Sold for $100,000 (including fees)


The African-American Fine Art Sale at Swann Auction Galleries on Oct. 5, 2017, featured a 1943 painting by Elizabeth Catlett, who is primarily known for her prints and sculpture. The portrait of a man in a cap is titled “War Worker.” Swann states that the lot is only the second painting by Catlett to come to auction. The above painting, offered one month later at Sotheby’s, is likely only the third.

The two-figure painting came from Audrey Adams and Lauren Maillian, the New York-based mother-daughter collectors who consigned the Alma Thomas painting above. Both works were acquired from Harold Hart, the director of Martha Jackson Gallery in New York, who was executor of Thomas’s estate.


Lot 413: GLENN LIGON (b. 1960), “Prologue Series #22,” 1993 (gouache and oilstick on paper, 20 x 16 inches). | Estimate $30,000-$40,000. Sold for $52,500 (including fees)


Lot 414: NJIDEKA AKUNYILI CROSBY (b. 1983), “Untitled,” 2011 (graphite and charcoal on paper). | Estimate $80,000-$120,000. Sold for $75,000 (including fees)


Lot 416: JULIE MEHRETU (b. 1970), “Untitled,” 2000 (gouache and ink on vellum and paper collage with pins, 19 x 24 inches). | Estimate $50,000-$70,000. Sold for $162,500 (including fees)


Lot 425: JACK WHITTEN (1939-2018), “The Ghost of Joseph Beuys,” 1986 (acrylic and canvas collage on canvas, 58.25 x 52.75 inches). | Estimate $200,000-$300,000 | Sold for $855,000 (including fees) RECORD


The above painting referencing German artist Joseph Beuys (1921-1986) was executed the same year he died. Jack Whitten made many memorial paintings and tribute works honoring fellow artists and cultural figures. This one is defined by Whitten’s innovative collage techniques using paint that has been transformed through a variety of casting methods. The consignor acquired the painting directly from Whitten in 1999, and the lot sold for nearly three times the high estimate, two months before Whitten died.


Lot 426: MARK BRADFORD (b. 1961), “Exodus,” 2006 (mixed media collage on canvas, 48 x 60 inches). | Estimate $1,200,000-$1,800,000. Sold for $2,175.000 (including fees)


Lot 438: WANGECHI MUTU (b. 1972), “How to Stab Oneself in the Back,” 2004 (sequins, ink, acrylic, contact paper and photo collage on Mylar, 80 x 42.5 inches). | Estimate $120,000-$180,000. Sold for $275,000 (including fees)


Lot 445: WANGECHI MUTU (b. 1972), “Untitled (Tumor),” 2006 (ink, acrylic, mixed media, printed paper and contact paper collage on Mylar, 55 x 87.25 inches). | Estimate $80,000-$120,000. UNSOLD


Lot 466: SIMONE LEIGH (b. 1967), “Overburdened with Significance,” 2011 (porcelain, Egyptian paste, terracotta, graphite, 22 x 8 by 14 inches; and steel base: 44 x 18 x 18 inches). | Estimate $20,000-$30,000. Sold for $43,750 (including fees)


Simone Leigh describes her practice as “an object-based on-going exploration of black female subjectivity. She creates sculpture, videos and installations informed by her interest in African art, ethnographic research, feminism and performance.” She made the above work while she was an artist in residence (AIR) at the Studio Museum in Harlem. The consignor acquired the sculpture directly from Leigh in July 2011, and it was on view in the Studio Museum’s AIR group exhibition, “Evidence of Accumulation” (July-October 2011).


Lot 447: WANGECHI MUTU (b. 1972), “Black Throne VIII,” 2012 (wooden chair, plastic, hair and tinsel with four extensions, 100 7/8 x 26 7/8 x 39 7/8 inches). | Estimate $40,000-$60,000. UNSOLD


Lot 448: YINKA SHONIBARE (1962), “Leisure Lady (with Pugs),” 2001 (fiberglass mannequin, 3 fiberglass dogs, Dutch wax printed cotton, leather, shoes, glass, bells and baseplate; mannequin: 63 x 31.5 x 31.5 inches; each dog: each dog: 16 x 42 x 8 inches). | Estimate $120,000-$180,000. Sold for $150,000 (including fees)


Lot 454: DAVID HAMMONS (b. 1943), “Toilet Tree,” 2004 (ceramic urinal, rubber tube and plastic rope; urinal: 30.5 x 18.25 x 8.5 inches, installation dimensions variable). | $150,000-$200,000. Sold for $175,000 (including fees)


Lot 485: GLENN LIGON (b. 1960),”Figure #39, 2010 (acrylic, silkscreen and coal dust on canvas
60 x 48 inches). | Estimate $500,000-$700,000. UNSOLD


READ MORE about a new idea to help artists benefit from the increased value of their work


A number of catalogs document the work of the artists featured above. Key volumes include “Wangechi Mutu: a Fantastic Journey,” which illustrates a comprehensive survey of her work presented at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University and the Brooklyn Museum; “Glenn Ligon: America,” a documentation of the artist’s 25-year survey organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art; “Frank Bowling” the first comprehensive monograph of the artist by Mel Gooding and “Mappa Mundi,” which accompanied a major 2017 exhibition featuring works spanning Bowling’s 60-year career; “Jack Whitten: Five Decades of Painting,” which coincided with the artist’s recent career-spanning exhibition; and “Alma Thomas,” published on the occasion of her recent survey at the Tang Teaching Museum and Studio Museum in Harlem. Two new exhibition catalogs, “Tomorrow is Another Day” and “Pickett’s Charge,” and a forthcoming May 2018 title, explore the work of Mark Bradford.


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