WORKS BY FIVE African American artists opened Christie’s contemporary sale on May 16, with exceptional results for women artists. Amy Sherald made her auction debut with a portrait that sold for three times the estimate. Mickalene Thomas achieved a new artist record and a painting by Jordan Casteel more than doubled expectations.

A body print by David Hammons and a record-breaking painting by Stanley Whitney were also among the first five lots offered at Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Afternoon Session in New York. Works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Mark Bradford, Rashid Johnson, Wangechi Mutu, Adam Pendleton, Henry Taylor, Jack Whitten, and two paintings by Robert Colescott, were also featured in the sale.


Lot 801: AMY SHERALD, “Innocent You, Innocent Me,” 2016 (oil on canvas, 54 x 43 inches / 137.2 x 109.2 cm). | Estimate $80,000-$120,000. Sold for $350,000 (fees included). AUCTION DEBUT


Sherald’s “Innocent You, Innocent Me” (2016) was the first lot for sale and the first work by the artist to be offered at a major auction house. Estimated to sell for $80,000-$120,000, the painting reached $350,000 (fees included).*

Baltimore-based Sherald paints imaginary portraits of African Americans, usually people she discovers in public as she goes about her daily routine. She paints her subjects in grayscale, in order to center their individuality and humanity rather than their race.

She won the National Portrait Gallery’s Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition in 2016 and was later selected by First Lady Michelle Obama to paint her official portrait for the Smithsonian museum. Last year, in the wake of her burgeoning acclaim, Sherald joined Hauser & Wirth, a major gallery with a global footprint. Her first exhibition with Hauser & Wirth opens Sept. 10 in New York.

“Innocent You, Innocent Me” appeared on the cover of the September 2016 issue of Smithsonian magazine, one of four covers produced in celebration of the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

In 2017, Sherald discussed her practice, including the portrait of a teenage boy holding a double-scoop ice cream cone, at the National Gallery of Art. His name is Randall. She said when she met him, he was wearing a red, navy blue, and gray hoodie. For the painting, she brightened up his outfit, adding wide yellow and white stripes to his hoodie and changing the background on his t-shirt from solid to camouflage.

“I feel like [Michelle Obama] really represents what I paint, which are American people. They are black people doing stuff. You know what I mean? And black people become first ladies. For me it feels natural to have her as a subject.” — Amy Sherald

Lot 805: MICKALENE THOMAS, “Just a Whisper Away,” 2008 (diptych—acrylic, enamel and rhinestones on panel, overall: 96 x 120 inches / 243.8 x 304.8 cm). | Estimate $70,000-$100,000. Sold for $495,000 (fees included). RECORD


New auction records were established by Thomas and Whitney at the 120-lot Afternoon Session. A double portrait by Thomas, “Just a Whisper Away” (2008) commanded $495,000, an artist record, against an estimate of $70,000-$100,000. The lot included a note to buyers that the painting has been “requested for inclusion” in “Desire in Art: from the 20th Century to the Digital Age” an international group exhibition organized by the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, scheduled to open in September 2019.

Thomas’s new record is a marked jump from the artist’s previous high mark, achieved in 2015 when “Come with Me, Now I Need You” (2007) sold at Sotheby’s for $175,000.

Whitney reached a new high mark at Phillips on May 15 when “SunRa” (2016) sold for $337,500. The record was short lived. The next day, “Lush Life” (2014) was bid up to $362,500 at Christie’s.

Both paintings typify Whitney’s oeuvre, as described by Christie’s: “The present lot is an example of Whitney’s signature stacked composition of numerous saturated color fields, delineated by horizontal bands running the length of a square-formatted canvas. Whitney works thinly and opaquely with saturated and under-saturated oils. Referencing cues ranging from early Minimalism to color theory painters, jazz music to Egyptian hieroglyphs, the artist interestingly curates brushy blocks of rich colors which complement or clash against one another.”

Christie’s held three contemporary art sales over a two-day period (May 15-16). The 135-lot Morning Session included six works by Romare Bearden (3), Richard Hunt, Al Loving, and Charles White, all grouped together. No works by black artist were offered in the 53-lot Evening Sale, which grabbed headlines when “Rabbit” (1986), a stainless steel sculpture by Jeff Koons, sold for more than $91 million, setting a world auction record for a living artist. CT

* Fees included in sales results, unless otherwise noted


FIND MORE about how Swizz Beatz is helping emerging artists keep all the proceeds from art fair sales and proposing a way collectors can ensure artists get a cut when their work is re-sold at auction or through a gallery


“Amy Sherald,” the artist’s first monograph, was published by the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis on the occasion of her first solo museum show. Two recent catalogs explore the work of Mickalene Thomas. “Mickalene Thomas: I Can’t See You Without Me” accompanied her exhibition at the Wexner Center for the Arts and “Mickalene Thomas: Femmes Noires” was published to coincide with her traveling exhibition organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Contemporary Art Centre in New Orleans. “Muse: Mickalene Thomas: Photographs” considers her photography work and “Mickalene Thomas: Origin of the Universe” documents her first solo museum exhibition. 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.


Lot 803: STANLEY WHITNEY, “Lush Life,” 2014 (oil on linen, 96 x 96 inches / 243.8 x 243.8 cm). | Estimate $150,000-$200,000. Sold for $362,500 (fees included). RECORD


Lot 802: JORDAN CASTEEL (b. 1989), “Jonathan,” 2014 (oil on canvas, 73 7/8 x 53 ¾ inches / 187.6 x 136.5 cm). | Estimate $100,000-$150,000. Sold for $325,000 (fees included)


Lot 806: DAVID HAMMONS, Untitled (Body Print), circa 1970 (grease and dry pigment on paperboard, 26 x 19 inches / 66 x 48.3 cm). | Estimate $400,000-$600,000. Sold for $879,000 (fees included)


Lot 817: ROBERT COLESCOTT, “The Phone Call,” 1978 (oil on canvas, 84 x 65 3/8 inches /213.4 x 166.1 cm). | Estimate $100,000-$150,000. Sold for $275,000 (fees included)


Lot 911: HENRY TAYLOR, “Watts Child,” 2004 (acrylic on panel, 39 3/8 x 32 ¾ inches / 100 x 83.2 cm). | Estimate $30,000-$50,000. Sold for $75,000 (fees included)


Lot 911: WANGECHI MUTU, Untitled,” 2002 (printed paper and painted paper collage, ink and watercolor on Mylar, 22 x 17 inches / 55.9 x 43.2 cm). Estimate $20,000-$30,000. Sold for $60,000 (fees included)


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