WATCH The sale of Mark Bradford’s “Speak, Birdman” (2018) to benefit the Studio Museum in Harlem’s new building fund. Bids started at $1.6 million and quickly climbed to $5.8 million, the hammer price, which amounted to $6,776,200 with fees. | Video by Sotheby’s


FIFTY YEARS AFTER AFRICAN AMERICAN ARTISTS played a prominent role in the founding of the Studio Museum in Harlem, a group of prominent artists stepped up to help fund a new building that will usher the institution forward through the next half century and beyond. Creating Space, a special two-day sale of works donated by 42 artists raised $20.2 million at Sotheby’s New York and set 24 artist records.

Five works by Mark Bradford, Julie Mehretu, Glenn Ligon, Njideka Akunyili Crosby and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye raised 80 percent of the total on May 16 ($16.4 million). The following day, 37 additional works brought the remaining proceeds. The auction was a historic moment of mutual benefit on a global platform, bringing attention to the museum and its mission as a nexus for artists of African descent and shining a light on artists its has supported over five decades through residencies, exhibitions, acquisitions, internships, employment, and artist prizes.

“We are deeply grateful to the artists who have participated so generously in these sales to help fund the construction of the new home of The Studio Museum in Harlem,” Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem, told Culture Type in a statement.

“The Studio Museum has always been more than a place that collects and exhibits artworks. Artists are at the center of everything we do, and we are thrilled that so many in our artist community have donated works that will help us best serve them, our neighbors in Harlem, and visitors from around the world in our amazing new home.“

“Artists are at the center of everything we do, and we are thrilled that so many in our artist community have donated works that will help us best serve them, our neighbors in Harlem, and visitors from around the world in our amazing new home.” — Thelma Golden

Lot 330: GARY SIMMONS, “Goodby Love,” 2017 (mixed media on canvas, 72 x 76 inches). | Estimate $50,000-$70,000. Sold for $93,750 including fees. RECORD


WORKS BY EMERGING, MID-CAREER, and established artists of African descent were presented together at the Sotheby’s auction. Kehinde Wiley, whose portrait of President Obama was unveiled in February at the National Portrait Gallery, was represented, along with Frank Bowling, the Guyana-born, London and New York-based artist whose abstract paintings have explored postcolonial geopolitics and his own biography over the past half century. Carrie Mae Weems, a pioneering artist and photographer who received an honorary degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art this month, and Eric N. Mack, a 2014-15 artist in residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem recently profiled in The New York Times style magazine, also donated works.

A new painting by Bradford opened the May 16 sale. Bids for “Speak, Birdman,” a large-scale abstract work opened at $1.6 million and quickly climbed to more than $6.7 million including fees, which is now the third highest auction price for the artist’s work. Four more high-yield lots benefitting the museum followed.

The next day’s 350-lot sale began at 10:30 am. Falling near the middle of the line up, the remaining Creating Space lots came up at about 2:30 p.m., beginning with “From a Place of Goodness” (2017-18) by Toyin Ojih Odudola. The ink and graphite drawing sold for $62,500, nearly five times its estimate. “Lost Tribes” (2018), a painting by Jordan Casteel followed and drew bidding more than four times the estimate, selling for $81,250.

Several lots later, when bids for Rashid Johnson‘s “Untitled Escape Collage” passed the $200,000 estimate and reached $270,000, the auctioneer, seeking the next bid at $280,000, got an offer of $275,000. He looked out into the room where Golden was seated and said, “Thelma, should I take $275,000?” He did, and Johnson’s mixed-media work eventually sold for $381,000, nearly twice the high estimate.


Lot 301: TOYIN OJIH ODUTOLA, “From a Place of Goodness,” 2017-18 (ink and graphite on paper, 14 x 11 inches). | Estimate $10,000-$15,000. Sold for $62,500 including fees. RECORD


MANY OF THE WORKS in the Creating Space sale far exceeded expectations. In addition to such outcomes for works by Odutola and Casteel, this was also the case for Robert Pruitt, Stanley Whitney, Derrick Adams, and Nari Ward, whose mixed-media work featuring U.S. currency edges and cash register drawers, brought nearly three times the high estimate, selling for $175,000.

Prices for works by a number of well-known artists—Sam Gilliam, Chris Ofili, Isaac Julien, Carrie Mae Weems, Charles Gaines, Yinka Shonibare, and Mel Edwards—barely reached or hovered below their low estimates (before fees). Edwards, who is known for his abstract metal sculptures, contributed a watercolor on paper to the sale. A painting by Oscar Murillo, a Colombian-born, London-based artists whose work regularly appears at auction and garners six figures, fell just short of his low estimate (before fees). Works by other younger artists, in more modest price ranges—a sculpture by Kevin Beasley, and a photograph by Xaviera Simmons—had similar results.

Initially, a photograph by Leslie Hewitt went unsold. The Creating Space sale concluded with a work by Leonardo Drew and when the hammer came down at about 3:30 p.m., there was a round of applause. About a dozen lots later, the auctioneer announced he was reopening Hewitt’s lot and the work quickly sold for $20,000. In the end, 100 percent of the lots benefitting the Studio Museum sold.

The two-day occasion yielded a slew of artist records for Odutola, Casteel, Johnson, Ward, Drew, Gary Simmons, and others. New art star and MacArthur Genius Fellow Akunyili Crosby narrowly bested her previous record. A number of internationally recognized artists, including Wiley, Lorna Simpson, and Theaster Gates reached new highs. Meanwhile, several initial benchmarks were set for up-and-coming artists whose work was presented for the first time at auction.

According to Sotheby’s, the following artist records were established at the Creating Space sale (in order of appearance at auction):

    Njideka Akunyili Crosby
    Toyin Ojih Odutola *
    Jordan Casteel *
    Titus Kaphar
    Hank Willis Thomas
    Rashid Johnson
    Kehinde Wiley
    McArthur Binion
    Kori Newkirk
    Theaster Gates
    Eric N. Mack *
    Lorna Simpson
    Sanford Biggers
    Kevin Beasley
    Derrick Adams *
    William Villalongo
    Wardell Milan
    Gary Simmons
    Charles Gaines
    Leslie Hewitt
    Xaviera Simmons
    Steffani Jemison *
    Nari Ward
    Leonardo Drew

    * artists who made their auction debut


Lot 309: RASHID JOHNSON, “Untitled Escape Collage,” 2018 (ceramic tile, mirror, vinyl, spray enamel, oil stick, black soap and wax mounted to board, 73 x 49 inches). | Estimate $150,000-$200,000. Sold for $381,000 including fees. RECORD


ALL OF THE PROCEEDS from the Creating Space sale are going to the museum, which has established a capital campaign to support the most expensive and consequential project in the institution’s history. The goal of the campaign is to raise $175 million to help meet construction costs, provide an operating and capital reserve fund, and build the museum’s endowment.

Designed by architect David Adjaye, the museum’s new 82,000 square foot home will rise on the site of the current building on West 125th Street. The light-filled, five story structure offers expanded space for exhibitions, the artist-in-residence program, and public gathering and engagement. The groundbreaking is scheduled for this fall and the new museum building is expected to open in 2021.

Construction of the new building is made possible by public and private investments, including substantial support and a major financial commitment from the City of New York. Last September when the museum unveiled the design plans for the building, it reported that the quiet phase of the capital campaign had already raised 70 percent of the $175 million. The City of New York committed $53.8 million toward construction costs. Other public and private contributions from foundations and philanthropist, business figures, and art world leaders amounted to $62 million.

A museum spokesperson said there was no update on any donations received between last fall and the Sotheby’s auction. Added to the previously announced commitments, which total $115.8 million, the $20.2 raised through the generosity of the artists brings the capital campaign fund up to $136 million. CT


Editor’s Note: Estimates do not include fees. Reported sales prices includes fees.


READ MORE A new study suggests how artists might benefit from maintaining a stake in their work


Lot 1: MARK BRADFORD, “Speak, Birdman,” 2018 (mixed media on canvas, 59.5 x 70.5 inches). | Estimate $2,000,000-$3,000,000. Sold for $6,776,200 including fees


Lot 5: NJIDEKA AKUNYILI CROSBY, “Bush Babies,” 2017 (acrylic, transfers, colored pencil and collage on paper, 72 x 60 inches). | Estimate $600,000-$800,000. Sold for $3,375,000 including fees. RECORD


Lot 302: JORDAN CASTEEL, “Lost Tribes,” 2018 (oil on canvas, 24 x 32 inches). | Estimate $15,000-$20,000. Sold for $81,250 including fees. RECORD


Lot 303: TITUS KAPHAR, “Confession,” 2017 (graphite and charcoal on printed paper collage and paper, 22 x 30 inches). | Estimate $10,000-$15,000. Sold for $81,250 including fees. RECORD


Lot 304: HANK WILLIS THOMAS, “Protect and Serve (White Wash),” 2018 (screenprint on retroreflective vinyl, mounted to Dibond, 20 x 30.5 inches). | Estimate $10,000-$15,000. Sold for $22,500 including fees. RECORD


Lot 310: KEHINDE WILEY, “Charles I,” 2018 (oil on canvas, 72 x 60 inches). | Estimate $100,000-$150,000. Sold for $300,000 including fees. RECORD


Lot 312: MCARTHUR BINION, “DNA: White Painting: Test for Season XII,” 2016 (oil paint stick and paper on board, 48 x 40 inches). | Estimate $30,000-$40,000. Sold for $68,750 including fees. RECORD


Lot 314: THEASTER GATES, “Stars Over Harlem,” 2015 (fire hose and wood, 60 x 62 x 8 inches). | Estimate $250,000-$350,000. Sold for $459,000 including fees. RECORD


Lot 320: LORNA SIMPSON, “Day for Night,” 2018 (ink and acrylic on gessoed wood, 4 parts – overall: 67 x 200 inches). | Estimate $250,000-$350,000. Sold for $375,000 including fees. RECORD


Lot 321: SHINIQUE SMITH, “Angel,” 2011 (clothing, fabric, acrylic spray paint, bleach, ribbon, rope and found objects, 26 x 16 x 15 inches). | Estimate $15,000-$20,000. Sold for $22,500 including fees. RECORD


Lot 325: STANLEY WHITNEY, “Untitled,” 2018 (monotype on handmade paper, 48 x 71.25). | Estimate $10,000-$15,000. Sold for $50,000 including fees


Lot 329: WARDELL MILAN, “Blue Tulip No. 1 of 4,” 2018 (oil and charcoal on panel, 20 x 24 inches). | Estimate $8,000-$12,000. Sold for $37,500 including fees. RECORD


Lot 336: NARI WARD, “Casio Black,” 2017 (U.S. currency edges, acrylic paint, indelible ink, overproof white rum, and used cash register drawers on wood panel, 68.75 x 56.75 x 4.5 inches). | Estimate $40,000-$60,000. Sold for $175,000 including fees. RECORD


Do you enjoy and value Culture Type? Please consider supporting its ongoing production by making a donation. Culture Type is an independent editorial project that requires countless hours and expense to research, report, write, and produce. To help sustain it, make a one-time donation or sign up for a recurring monthly contribution. It only takes a minute. Many Thanks for Your Support.