THE SPRING CONTEMPORARY AUCTIONS at Phillips New York featured a variety of works by critically acclaimed African American artists—emerging, mid-career, and long-established figures. Lots sold against the backdrop of Mark Bradford’s “Helter Skelter II” (2007), which was on display behind the auctioneer’s podium over the course of three sales spanning two days.

On May 15, the 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale exceeded expectations. Phillips reported that the two-part auction registered the highest-ever total for a day sale in the company’s history and yielded records for four African American artists. The sale realized $34,688,500 and established new benchmarks for Ed Clark, Rashid Johnson, Christina Quarles, and Stanley Whitney.


Lot 140: ED CLARK, “Hot and Cold,” 2007 (oil on canvas, 47 1/4 x 66 1/4 inches / 120 x 168.3 cm). | Estimate $80,000-$120,000. Sold for $337,500 (fees included). RECORD


New York-based Clark is known for using a push broom to move paint across his canvases. Dominated by strokes of scarlet red and aqua blue, “Hot and Cold” (2007) by Clark sold for $337,500 in the Morning Session, setting an artist record. The price was about three times the estimate. Clark, 93, is profiled in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of Luncheon magazine and his work graces the cover of the London-based publication.

Works by Romare Bearden, Frank Bowling (2), and Sam Gilliam (3), also appeared in the 140-lot Morning Session.

In the Afternoon Session, a painting exemplifying Quarles’s signature style set an artist record. “Moon (Lez Go Out N’ Feel Tha Nite)” (2017) explores fluid identities and ambiguous figures. Estimated at $50,000-$70,000, the painting was bid up to $275,000, selling for about four times the expected price.

Phillips published an essay about the “hybrid universe” the artist has created, wherein “meanings are in flux and identities remain fluid. Informed by the artist’s self-identification as ‘a queer, cisgender woman who is black but is often mistaken as white,’ Quarles’s figures are decidedly ambiguous, their polymorphous bodies caught between shifting perspectives and planes. Suspended in a state of painterly metamorphosis, these figures reflect the artist’s own subjective experience of displacement in relation to personal topics like race, gender and human relationships.”

“But I Woke Jus’ Tha Same,” Quarles’s first solo exhibition with Regen Projects was on view earlier this month at the Los Angeles gallery.

“I’m interested in depicting an experience of living in a body rather than looking at a body. I’m interested in finding different ways to explore my experience of certain identity positions that I’m familiar with.”
– Christina Quarles

Lot 318: CHRISTINA QUARLES, “Moon (Lez Go Out N’ Feel Tha Nite),” 2017 (acrylic on canvas, 50 x 40 inches / 127 x 101.6 cm). | Estimate $50,000-$70,000. Sold for $275,000 (fees included) RECORD


Also in the Afternoon Session, Whitney’s “Sun Ra” (2016) realized $337,500, and “Colored Men” by Johnson sold for $500,000. Both surpassed expectations, setting artist records that stood for just one day. The next day, Whitney’s “Lush Life” (2014) sold for $362,500 at Christie’s, eclipsing the high mark at Phillips. Also on May 16, Johnson’s “Untitled Escape Collage” (2019) reached $1,160,000 at Sotheby’s Evening Auction, establishing yet another new record for New York-based Johnson.

In addition to the artist records, the 188-lot Afternoon Session featured works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, McArthur Binion, Noah Davis, Aaron Fowler, Theaster Gates, Glenn Ligon, Rodney McMillian, Adam Pendleton, Walter Price, Robert Pruitt, Lorna Simpson, Jeff Sonhouse, Kehinde Wiley, Fred Wilson, and Brenna Youngblood, with multiple lots by Bradford, Johnson, David Hammons, Oscar Murillo, and Lamar Peterson, made available.

Eight lots came from the collection of Blake Byrne (1935-2019), the television executive who died earlier this year. All of the works were by African American artists, most based in Los Angeles (Bradford, Davis, McMillian, Peterson (2), Sonhouse, Wilson, Youngblood). In 2005, Byrne donated 123 works to MOCA Los Angeles, a private gift cited at the time as the largest in the museum’s history.

Two untitled works by Hammons, a tarp painting and a small body print on graph paper, were among the lots that went unsold. Hammons is presenting his first show in Los Angeles in 45 years at Hauser & Wirth. Described as the largest exhibition of the elusive artist’s career, the show opened yesterday and is dedicated to the late jazz musician Ornette Coleman.

The Afternoon Session also included 14 benefit lots, raising more than $550,000 for Artadia. The nonprofit supports innovative artists from diverse backgrounds through unrestricted cash grants in key cities across the country. A drawing by Georgia-born, New York-based Price was among the works donated by artists. The capsule sale was held in celebration of Artadia’s 20th anniversary.


Lot 319: STANLEY WHITNEY, “SunRa,” 2016 (oil on canvas, 96 1/8 x 96 1/8 inches / 244.2 x 244.2 cm). | Estimate $120,000-$180,000. Sold for $337,500 (fees included) RECORD


ON MAY 16, the Evening Sale yielded nearly $100 million ($99,932,750) and included Bradford’s highly anticipated “Helter Skelter II.” Monumentally scaled, the abstract painting complements Bradford’s “Helter Skelter I” (2007).

“Helter Skelter I” sold last year for $11,977,943 at Phillips London. An artist record, the price was also the highest ever paid for a work by a living African American artist. (The historic benchmark held for two months until “Past Times” (1997) by Kerry James Marshall sold for $21,114,500 to Sean Combs at Sotheby’s.) Consigned for sale by tennis champion John McEnroe, “Helter Skelter I” was purchased by The Broad in Los Angeles.

The lot essay that accompanies Bradford’s “Helter Skelter II” explores the fascinating meaning behind the paintings. The collaged abstract works are topographical maps of Los Angeles layered with narrative. In the essay, Jonathan Griffin states that they are titled in reference to both “Helter Skelter: L.A. Art in the ’90s,” the 1992 exhibition curated by Paul Schimmel, and the evil deeds and failed, racist ambitions of Charles Manson.

While bidding for “Helter Skelter I” was competitive and enthusiastic, resulting in the record price, action around “Helter Skelter II” was comparatively lukewarm. Anticipated to sell for $8 million to $12 million, the lot realized $8,475,250. With fees included, it barely cleared the low estimate. (The hammer price was $7.7 million.)


Lot 24: MARK BRADFORD, “Helter Skelter II,” 2007 (mixed media collage on canvas, 148 x 436 inches / 375.9 x 1107.4 cm). | Estimate $8,000-$12,000. Sold for $8,475,250 fees included ($7.7 million hammer price)


Premium works by El Anatsui, Jeah-Michal Basquiat, Jordan Casteel, Robert Colescott, and Chris Ofili, were also featured in the Evening Sale, a tight selection of 45 lots.

An early self-portrait by Casteel sold for $237,500, three times the high estimate. Among the final lots, the sale concluded with “Alter Ego,” a bottle cap and copper wire tapestry made by Anatsui in 2014 and Ofili’s “The Naked Spirit of Captain Shit and the Legend of the Black Stars” (2000-2001), which was featured in “Chris Ofili: Night and Day,” the British artist’s first major solo museum exhibition in the United States. CT


* Fees included in sales results, unless otherwise noted


FIND MORE about how artists and their estates might benefit directly from the sale of their work on the secondary market through artist resale royalties


The first volume to document the artist’s work, “Ascendant: Christina Quarles” is forthcoming in 2020 from Prestel. In recent years, several exhibition catalogs have explored the work of Stanley Whitney, including “Stanley Whitney” and “Stanley Whitney: Sketchbook,” both from Lisson Gallery, “Stanley Whitney” from Karma, and “Stanley Whitney: Dance the Orange,” which accompanied his Studio Museum in Harlem exhibition. In addition, “Stanley Whitney: In the Color” is forthcoming in July. “Ed Clark: A Survey” was published to coincide with the artist’s recent exhibition at Mnuchin Gallery in New York. From G.R. N’Namdi Gallery “Ed Clark: Master Painter” dates back more than a dozen years. Also consider, “Rashid Johnson: Anxious Men.”

May 15: Day Sale, Morning Session

Lot 201: ROMARE BEARDEN, “Mecklenburg Monday,” 1982 (graphite, watercolor, ink and paper collage on board, 6 3/4 x 4 3/4 inches / 17.1 x 12.1 cm). | Estimate $40,000-$60,000. Sold for $62,000 (fees included)


Lot 218: FRANK BOWLING, “Mooring,” 2008 (oil, collage and mixed media on canvas, 33 1/2 x 26 1/2 inches / 85.1 x 67.3 cm). | Estimate $40,000-$60,000. Sold for $60,000 (fees included)


Lot 229: SAM GILLIAM, Untitled, 1967 (watercolor on handmade paper, 23 1/2 x 18 1/4 inches / 59.7 x 46.4 cm). | Estimate $10,000-$15,000. Sold for $93,750 (fees included)

May 15: Day Sale, Afternoon Session

Lot 323: RASHID JOHNSON, “Color Men,” 2016 (spray enamel, black soap and wax on ceramic tile, 96 x 80 inches / 243.8 x 203.2 cm). | Estimate $200,000-$300,000. Sold for $500,000 (fees included) RECORD


Lot 404: NOAH DAVIS, “Bust 3,” 2010 (oil on canvas, 36 x 36 inches / 91.4 x 91.4 cm). | Estimate $10,000-$15,000. Sold for $47,500 (fees included)


Lot 406: LAMAR PETERSON, Untitled, 2005 (acrylic and gouache on paper mounted to canvas, 12 x 10 inches / 30.5 x 25.4 cm). | Estimate $3,000-$5,000. Sold for $4,000 (fees included)


Lot 409: JEFF SONHOUSE, “Papi Shampoo,” 2010 (mixed media, mirror and oil on fiberboard, 47 7/8 x 46 1/2 inches / 121.6 x 118.1 cm). | Estimate $10,000-$15,000. Sold for $106,250 (fees included)


Lot 410: FRED WILSON, “Shatter,” 2003 (Murano glass candlesticks, water and food coloring, in 5 parts, overall 17 3/8 x 23 5/8 x 23 5/8 inches / 44.1 x 60 x 60 cm). | Estimate $10,000-$15,000. Sold for $20,625 (fees included)


Lot 411: BRENNA YOUNGBLOOD, “Against the Wall 1,” 2007 (acrylic on canvas, 48 x 36 inches / 121.9 x 91.4 cm). | Estimate $5,000-$7,000. Sold for $13,750 (fees included)


Lot 441: AARON FOWLER, “Nigga F**k Yo Cousin,” 2013 (mixed media on wood panel, in 3 parts, 91 3/4 x 111 1/4 x 12 inches / 233 x 282.6 x 30.5 cm). | Estimate $15,000-$22,000. Sold for $55,000 (fees included)

May 16: Evening Sale

Lot 35: ROBERT COLESCOTT, “Knowledge of the Past is the Key to the Future: The Original,” 1984 (acrylic on canvas, 84 x 72 inches / 213.4 x 182.9 cm). | Estimate $300,000-$500,000. Sold for $400,000 ($350,000 hammer price)


Lot 43: EL ANATSUI, “Alter Ego,” 2014 (aluminum bottle caps and copper wire, 110 x 133 inches / 279.4 x 337.8 cm). | Estimate $800,000-$1,200,000. Sold for $860,000 fees included ($700,000 hammer price)


Lot 45: CHRIS OFILI, “The Naked Spirit of Captain Shit and the Legend of the Black Stars,” 2000-01 (acrylic, oil, phosphorescent paint, paper collage, glitter, polyester resin, map pins on linen, and elephant dung, 100 3/4 x 72 x 6 1/8 inches / 255.9 x 182.9 x 15.6 cm). | Estimate $400,000-$600,000. Sold for $475,000 fees included ($380,000 hammer price)


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