PHILLIPS BEGAN the fall auction season with its New Now sale and the results yielded an artist record for Derek Fordjour. “Agency and Regulation (study)” (2016) was estimated to sell for $40,000-$60,000, and the painting more than doubled high expectations reaching $137,500 (fees included). The new benchmark was established Sept. 24 in New York.

During the auction’s preview exhibition, “Agency and Regulation (study)” was front and center, displayed beside Phillips front desk. The record-setting painting exemplifies Fordjour’s practice which centers primarily around issues of race, identity, community, and inequality. Intense color and repetition are key elements in his work. He invokes the culture of sport and the symbolism of teams, uniforms, marching bands, and formations in his explorations of risk and reward, the power of the collective, and vulnerability and agency.

FORDJOUR LIVES and works in Harlem. Born in Memphis, Tenn., he is of Ghanaian heritage. An artist to watch, Fordjour has a solo exhibition opening Oct. 4 at Josh Lilley in London. He’s taking over the gallery with a series of new paintings, an immersive installation, and a sculpture displayed in the expansive street-front window.

The title of the show, “The House Always Wins,” is a metaphor for life in which structural racism persists and generational advantage trumps talent and achievement. The exhibition description explains that in casinos, the house has a built-in edge. The odds are always stacked against the gamblers:

    No matter how long the player tries, no matter how much he bets, he doesn’t win. There is no way to beat the house. The space of gaming becomes allegorical for the quandary of identity. More than a gambling term or an economic principle, within the context of Fordjour’s work the idea of The House Always Wins is also an emotional state, one that questions practical notions of fairness and equality alongside holistic, societal notions of opportunity and progress.

More than a gambling term or an economic principle, within the context of Fordjour’s work the idea of The House Always Wins is also an emotional state, one that questions practical notions of fairness and equality alongside holistic, societal notions of opportunity and progress.

Lot 62: DEREK FORDJOUR, “Agency and Regulation (study),” 2016 (acrylic and oil on panel, 60 x 40 inches / 152.4 x 101.6 cm.). | Estimate $40,000 – 60,000. Sold for $137,500 (fees included) RECORD


The forthcoming exhibition is covered prominently in the Financial Times and coincides with Frieze London (Oct. 3-6) where Fordjour is one of four artists whose work will be on display in Josh Lilley’s booth.

The artist is hitting his stride. In December, artnet News asked art advisors who was on their radar. Fordjour made the list of artists they were watching and recommended buying. In January, The Wall Street Journal‘s Kelly Crow called him a “coveted newcomer.” Earlier this month, Fordjour was among the artists included in “The Artsy Vanguard 2019: 50 Artists to Know Right Now.”

Represented by Josh Lilley in London and Night Gallery in Los Angeles, Fordjour joined Petzel Gallery in New York in April. In May, Beyoncé and Jay-Z scooped up “Top-Ten ALL STARS” (2019), a single work composed of 10 individual portraits, offered by Night Gallery at Frieze New York. A couple of weeks later, Pérez Art Museum Miami acquired “Worst to Be First” (2019) by Fordjour. Executed with acrylic, charcoal, oil pastel, and foil on newspaper, the painting depicts a tennis player and references the challenges endured by pioneering figures who achieve historic “firsts.”

Next year will mark a significant milestone. “Derek Fordjour: SHELTER,” the artist’s first major solo museum exhibition will be on view at Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis in January 2020. The entire show is a work of art. He is constructing “an environment that places viewers in the heart of a storm. SHELTER, a makeshift, ramshackle structure is populated by the artist’s signature canvas works along with detritus culled from the urban environment—all collected here to evoke notions of safety, crisis, and impending harm.”

IN LESS THAN ONE YEAR, Fordjour bested his high mark at auction by $100,000. His previous record was set in November 2018, when “No. 36” (2014) sold at Phillips New York for $37,500 (fees included) against an estimate of $5,000-$7,000, more than five times high expectations.

New Now sales at Phillips feature late 20th century and contemporary art by both established artists and up-and-coming figures. There were 230 lots in last week’s sale with results ranging from $2,125 to $625,000 (fees included). In addition to Fordjour, the auction included works by Nina Chanel Abney, Derrick Adams, Sam Gilliam, Tschabalala Self, and Yinka Shonibare.

Auction action at Phillips shifts to London this week and as further demonstration of Fordjour’s rise, his work is being offered in the 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale (Oct. 2), which is reserved for notable works by leading artists. Four of the first five lots in the sale are by African American artists including Fordjour. Consigned by a “distinguished European collector,” the painting is a portrait of a drill team performer called “Green Horn” (2017). CT


TOP IMAGE: Installation view of Phillips “New Now” Auction exhibition in New York, September 2019. | Courtesy of Phillips


FIND MORE Derek Fordjour talks about Project Reset, a program that leverages art programs to reduce incarceration rates.

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


Derek Fordjour is among the many up-and-coming artists who won the support of collector Peggy Cooper Cafritz (1947-2018). His work is illustrated in the recently published volume “Fired Up! Ready to Go! Finding Beauty, Demanding Equity: An African American Life in Art. The Collections of Peggy Cooper Cafritz.”


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