A STRIKING PORTRAIT of a statuesque woman named Brenda P set a new auction record for Barkley L. Hendricks (1945-2017) on Wednesday at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction in New York. The 1974 painting sold for $2.1 million including fees, which was twice the high estimate and shattered the artist’s previous high, which was just shy of $1 million.

The artist’s subject has a confident stance and an unamused gaze. Her commanding presence is emboldened by the manner in which she has fashioned herself. Her fingernails and toe nails are painted black and she embraces red, which defines her look—from her head wrap, large-frame sunglasses and embroidery-accented blouse to her platform shoes. Hendricks demonstrates his mastery of color by juxtaposing all of these scarlet moments with sea foam green bell bottom pants.


Lot 8: BARKLEY L. HENDRICKS, “Brenda P,” 1974 (oil and acrylic on canvas). | Estimate $700,000-$1,000,000. Sold for $2,175,000 including fees


Three years ago, the artist’s auction record stood at $365,000 (“Steve” and “Tuff Tony”). One month after his passing, the figure nearly tripled when two paintings broached $1 million at Sotheby’s in May 2017. A year later, the price of his work has doubled.

“Brenda P” is the first female portrait by Hendricks to come to auction since his death. Hendricks said there is no difference in the way he thinks about the female and male forms. In an interview with Thelma Golden published in the catalog for “Birth of the Cool,” the artist’s survey exhibition, he said, “…there’s an obvious difference between males and females to a certain extent…but the personalities kind of directed my focus.”

In the essay accompanying the lot, Sotheby’s described how “Brenda P” fits into Hendricks’s oeuvre:

    “Presenting a figure of supreme confidence, poise, and sophistication, Barkley Hendricks’ captivating portrait Brenda P from 1974 is a resounding testament to the artist’s unrivaled ability to conjure compelling personalities with extraordinary specificity. Posed in graceful contrapposto, arms assertively akimbo, the elegant silhouette is at once alluring and elusive: catching the viewer’s gaze from behind her stylish, over-sized rose-tinted sunglasses, Brenda P both challenges and welcomes the viewer’s participation, exemplifying the emotive complexity which distinguishes Hendricks’ extraordinary brand of portraiture. Within his tightly rendered paintings, members of the artist’s own community—his family, friends, and individuals who caught his attention on the street—are captured with unprecedented poignancy; indeed, no artist has exemplified a particular generation, urban aesthetic, notions of race or personal sensibility more acutely.

“Brenda P both challenges and welcomes the viewer’s participation, exemplifying the emotive complexity which distinguishes Hendricks’ extraordinary brand of portraiture.” — Sotheby’s

The lot essay, speculates Brenda P may be Brenda Payton, lead singer of the Philadelphia-based R&B group Brenda and the Tabulations. The band had a string of hits in the early 1970s around the same the painting was produced. In addition, Hendricks was born in Philadelphia.

“Brenda P” is the first of two female portraits by Hendricks that topped $2 million this week. After “Brenda P” sold for $2,175,000 million on May 16, the next day “Dancer,” a 1977 portrait, garnered $2,055,000. It was prominently featured in Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Day Auction on May 17, the eighth lot in a lengthy sale of nearly 400 lots that lasted for more than six hours.

One of the artist’s “limited palette” portraits, “Dancer” features a lithe figure in a white spaghetti-strap leotard and white tights against a white background, which beautifully stands in contrast with her dark skin. With her head turned to the side, the viewer observes her in profile. Her bleach-blonde hair is close-cropped. She wears light jewelry—a stud in her nose; a hoop earring accented by moon, heart, and star studs; and thin chains with open hearts, stars, and an arrow pendant rest around her neck. Her eyes are closed and she exudes a sense of peace and calm.

The winning bid for “Dancer” reached more than three times the high estimate. Interest in the white on white portrait was enthusiastic and neared, but did not reach, the record price achieved by “Brenda P.”CT


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The catalog for “Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of the Cool” is an amazing documentation of the exhibition and the artist’s practice. It features essay contributions from Trevor Schoonmaker, who organized the exhibition at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University; Art historian Richard Powell of Duke University; and Franklin Sirmans, now director of Perez Art Museum Miami; and an interview with Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem. The volume also contains informative acknowledgements by Hendricks and a chronology that includes personal and pithy comments from the artist about his milestones and experiences over the years. “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” was published to coincide with the exhibition, now on view at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, before it travels to the Brooklyn Museum.


Lot 108: BARKLEY L. HENDRICKS, “Dancer,” 1977 (acrylic and oil on linen). | Estimate $400,000-$600,000. Sold for $2,055,000 including fees


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