A RECENT PAINTING by Amoako Boafo portrays a woman with gray hair gathered on top of her head in a loose Afro puff. She’s lounging on a pool float, wearing a white one-piece bathing suit covered with a leafy lemon print. Her lips are red and a pair of sunglasses shields her eyes from the sun.

Titled “The Lemon Bathing Suit,” the 2019 portrait is opening the 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale at Phillips London this week, with an estimate of 30,000-50,000 British Pounds (about $38,700-$64,500). The Feb. 13 sale marks Boafo’s auction debut. It’s the first time a painting by the artist has been sold on the secondary market.

Lot 1: AMOAKO BOAFO, “The Lemon Bathing Suit,” 2019 (oil on unstretched canvas, 205.7 x 193 cm / 80 7/8 x 75 7/8 inches). | Estimate 30,000-£50,000 British Pounds (about $38,700-$64,500). | Sold for 675,000 British Pounds ($881,550) fees included. RECORD


The art world is fascinated with a widening group of contemporary artists of African descent and images that center the black body and explore the black experience. As a result, Images of black figures made by relatively young black artists have featured prominently in Phillips contemporary auctions in recent years. Derek Fordjour made his auction debut at Phillips in 2017; Nina Chanel Abney and Jordan Casteel in 2018; Tschabalala Self in 2019; and now Boafo in 2020.

Born in Accra, Ghana, Boafo lives and works in Vienna, Austria. Over the past year or so, he’s established an international profile and gained exposure in the United States through gallery exhibitions in Los Angeles and New York and major art fairs in Chicago and Miami. He began 2019 with his first U.S. solo show at Roberts Projects in Los Angeles. “I See Me” featured recent portraits from his Black Diaspora series.

While the exhibition was on view, I asked Boafo about the subjects he paints. “Most of the characters are people that share the same ideas as me. Others are also people that I find strength in—how they celebrate/live their blackness,” he said. “’I See Me’ explains the characters that I portray. It is one of the things that is very visible in my work, that I want to be able to tell my story myself. I want to be able validate myself.”

Boafo also described to me the unifying concept behind his work. He said, “the primary idea of my practice is representation, documenting, celebrating and showing new ways to approach blackness.”

“The primary idea of my practice is representation, documenting, celebrating and showing new ways to approach blackness.”
— Amoako Boafo

In December, Mariane Ibrahim participated in Art Basel Miami Beach for the first time presenting a solo exhibition of Boafo’s paintings. At the conclusion of the art fair, the gallery reported the entire booth sold out with prices ranging from $15,000-$45,000.

During the art fair, the City of Miami Beach inaugurated a new Legacy Purchase Program, a public initiative focused on acquiring works by emerging artists. One of Boafo’s portraits, “Cobalt Blue Earring” (2019), was purchased by the city from Mariane Ibrahim for $44,000.


Art Basel Miami Beach 2019 (Nova Section): Installation view of Mariane Ibrahim Gallery booth featuring solo presentation of paintings by Amoako Boafo. | Photo: Mariane Ibrahim Gallery


ORDINARILY, BOAFO DEPICTS his subjects gazing beyond the canvas, looking directly at the viewer in half- and quarter-length portraits. “The Lemon Bathing Suit” is a rare image of his subject in recline.

The artist’s portraits are defined by a visual tension exemplified in “The Lemon Bathing Suit.” Boafo paints the skin of his subjects with his fingertips, using lengthy, meandering and overlapping strokes to develop an intriguing textural pattern. It gives depth and interest to the skin and also resembles an exposed muscle structure. This treatment stands in stark contrast to the near-solid planes of color that surround his subjects and the sharp graphic patterns he often selects for their clothing.

The composition of “The Lemon Bathing Suit,” for example, is grounded by three blocks of color—the bright blue pool water, stark white pool float, and brown wood deck. At its center, the gestural strokes that render the surface of the subject’s skin are juxtaposed with the sharp white background of the pool float and the flatness of the wallpaper-style print on her swimsuit.

Egon Schiele (1890-1918) is often invoked in descriptions of Boafo’s style, by the artist himself and others. The Phillips lot essay compares the artist’s rough hewn approach to forming his figures with the similarly intense aesthetic of the young Austrian painter.

The essay also references three other white male painters: “Most prominently, the subjects of the pool and bather that permeate The Lemon Bathing Suit are iconic symbols that inspired artists such as Paul Cézanne, Pierre Bonnard, and David Hockney in their respective oeuvres.”

In fact, Boafo’s vividly colored painting is more closely associated visually and symbolically with Derrick Adams’s Floater series (2016-) and “the floaters” (2017) by Henry Taylor.

The portrait also recalls a detail from a famous painting by Amy Sherald. The finger nails of Boafo’s subject are polished with the same pale periwinkle purple First Lady Michelle Obama wore when she sat with Sherald for her official portrait now on display at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

WITH “THE LEMON BATHING SUIT” slated for sale at Phillips, Boafo is the latest up-and-coming artist to find his work offered at auction, shortly after a collector has purchased it directly from their studio or through a gallery. According to the provenance included with the listing, the owner of the painting bought it from Jeffrey Deitch Los Angeles. Last summer, the gallery presented “Punch” (June 29–Aug. 17, 2019), a group show curated by Abney. She assembled figurative works by more than 30 artists “in her circle,” including Boafo.

“I participated in the (Punch) group show organized by Nina and Roberts Projects consigned the works to Jeffrey. I should have insisted on them telling me who they sell to before they [sold it]. But we all learn from our mistakes,” Boafo told me via email. “…There’s not much I can do about it. Both galleries made a call, which did not go well.”

Galleries and artists at every stage of their careers are wary of collectors who buy artworks only to flip them for potentially substantial profit at auction. The concern is the quick profit is made at the expense of the artist.

The immediate turnaround sought by the collector and the decision by Phillips to not only include the painting in its highly curated evening sale (as opposed its day sale), but to also begin the auction with the work, is an indication of the art world’s interest in Boafo and the premium market value the auction house has assigned to the lot (which is further confirmed by the promotional video Phillips made and the editorial feature it published).


AMOAKO-BOAFO, “Cobalt Blue Earring,” 2019 (oil on canvas, 199.4 x 162.6 cm / 78.5 x 64.0 inches). | © Amoako Boafo, City of Miami Beach


Based on recent stated sales prices for Boafo’s works, if Phillips market determination is correct, the painting will sell for more than the collector paid for it, more than Boafo’s asking price for primary sales, and more than the estimate, and Boafo will not benefit directly from the outsized price. The net proceeds will go to the collector who purchased the painting less than a year ago.

The publicity that accompanies high auction prices seems positive on its face. Galleries, however, favor critical recognition and institutional representation for their artists over excessive market attention. Given the fleeting nature of market preferences, early inflated prices at auction for an emerging artists could have a balloon effect, negatively impacting the artist’s ability to sustain durable value and establish a progressive pricing structure over time.

Nevertheless, auctions are a significant aspect of the art world ecosystem. And for buyers, the open market gives anyone with the resources the opportunity to buy what they want (which may not always be the case at a gallery). Several years ago, only a handful of black artists were represented in sales at major auction houses and the appearance of their works was few and far between. The increasing presence at auctions of works by black artists, particularly younger contemporary artists of African descent is reflective of growing regard for their practices, which often goes hand-in-hand with (or can be driven by) collector interest.

BOAFO IS JUST GETTING STARTED and the past couple of years have been impressive. Since 2018, he has been represented by Mariane Ibrahim and Roberts Projects began representing him in January 2019. Boafo is now dually represented by the galleries. On the radar of influential collectors Don and Mera Rubell, he was named the 2019 artist-in-residence at the Rubell Museum in Miami. In Vienna, he won the 2019 STRABAG Artaward International and recently earned his MFA from the Academy of Fine Arts (2019).

His work is currently featured in a group exhibition at Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York. “Xenia: Crossroads in Portrait Painting” is on view through Feb. 15. Boafo’s first solo gallery exhibition with Mariane Ibrahim opens June 4 in Chicago and his next solo show at Roberts Projects is scheduled for January 2021 in Los Angeles.

In London, young black artists are leading the contemporary evening sales. At Phillips, Boafo’s “The Lemon Bathing Suit” is Lot 1 and Self’s “Princess” (2017) is Lot 3. Christie’s London has a similar line up for its Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on Feb. 12. “Mom” (2013) by Casteel is Lot 1. The portrait of the artist’s mother was acquired directly from Casteel in 2014. “Spare Moment” (2015) by Self is Lot 3.

Boafo said he has mixed feelings about the auction. “I will focus on the positive side,” he said. “Plus, I am curious how it will go.” CT


UPDATE (05/16/21): “The Swift, Cruel, Incredible Rise of Amoako Boafo: How Feverish Selling and Infighting Built the Buzziest Artist of 2020” from artnet News (Sept. 28, 2020)

UPDATE (02/14/20): artnet News published the following in a report about sales at Frieze LA: “(Perhaps the most-talked about sale of the day was of a work by a young artist, but it took place in London, where Amoako Boafo’s The Lemon Bathing Suit (2019), sold for $880,000 at Phillips on a high estimate of $65,000. The work was consigned by rabble-rousing LA collector Stefan Simchowitz, and when I ran into him at the Felix Art Fair—the rollicking event that also returned for a second go of it this year—Simchowitz said, “I have to pay my artists, so it’s all going to go to good homes. It’s not going to buy me a Ferrari.”)”

UPDATE (02/13/20): Sales results added


FIND MORE about what artists can learn from the music biz and changes Swizz Beatz imagines for the auction business, from artnet News


Roberts Projects in Los Angeles published “Amoako Boafo: I See Me” to accompany that gallery’s 2019 solo exhibition with Ghanaian-born, Vienna-based artist Amoako Boafo.


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