LIVE SALES AT THE BIG AUCTION HOUSES have returned and at Phillips works by several black artists stood out in the results. On July 2, the Phillips New York 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale featured 25 premium lots and all found buyers. Seven black artists were represented including Jean-Michel Basquiat, David Hammons, and Charles White. A work by Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe marked the artist’s auction market debut. Paintings by Titus Kaphar and Christina Quarles set new artist records.


Evening Sale, Lot 1: TITUS KAPHAR, “Untitled (red thread lady),” 2013-18 (oil on canvas with red thread and hooked needle, in artist’s frame, 29 x 22 3/4 inches / 73.7 x 57.8 cm). | Estimate $40,000-$60,000. Sold for $187,500 fees included. RECORD


The auction began with a record setter. “Untitled (red thread lady)” (2013-18) by Kaphar was the first lot, opening the evening sale. The painting is inspired by early 19th century portraiture. He used red thread to stitch to the subject’s image into the green background. The lot sold for $187,500 (fees included), a new artist record.

New Haven, Conn.-based Kaphar’s previous auction record was set a few days before when his painting “The Wing That Breaks from Her Wounds” (2010) sold for $150,000 at Sotheby’s, besting the lot that came right before it, “Jerome Project (Asphalt and Chalk) (2015), a work on paper that reached $131,250. Both sold on June 30. Prior to that, the artist’s high mark was $47,500, achieved in February 2019 when “Failed Attempt at Sincerity” (2006) sold at Christie’s New York.

Kaphar co-founded NXTHVN, a nonprofit that supports the next generation of arts professionals, providing fellowships, exhibition and studio space, and other opportunities. In May, he joined Gagosian gallery.

Known for cutting and physically manipulating his canvases, the interventions symbolize violence, loss, or erasure; reconstruct accepted histories; and reckon with the America’s racist past.

Following the protests for racial justice that swept the nation in the wake of the latest spate of police killings, Kaphar was commissioned to make a painting for the cover of Time magazine. Representing the mourning and sorrow of countless black mothers, his painting “Analogous Colors” (2020) graced the cover of the June 15 issue. The image depicts a mother holding her infant son close to her chest. The artist has cut the child from the canvas. All that remains is an empty silhouette.

Kaphar used a similar conceit in the painting that sold a Phillips, manipulating his canvas to explore notions of absence, presence, and suppressed narratives. “Untitled (red thread lady)” was featured in the artist’s “Vesper Project,” He cut the subject of the painting out of the canvas revealing another figure behind her. Years after he “completed” and displayed the painting, he sewed the original portrait back into place using red thread.

Years after Titus Kaphar “completed” and displayed the painting, he sewed the portrait back into place using red thread.

Evening Sale, Lot 6: CHRISTINA QUARLES, “Placed,” 2017 (acrylic on canvas, 49 7/8 x 42 inches / 126.7 x 106.7 cm). | Estimate $70,000-$100,000. Sold for $400,000 fees included. RECORD


“Placed” (2017), a painting by Los Angeles-based Quarles sold for $400,000, setting a new artist record. The price was four times the estimate of $70,000 to $100,000. A fascinating blend of color, figuration, and abstraction, Quarles’s paintings explore the complexity of identity. Her previous record was also set at Phillips when “Moon (Lez Go Out N’ Feel Tha Nite)” (2017) sold for $275,000 in May 2019.

Basquiat’s “Victor 25448” (1987) was also offered. The painting is particularly relevant given the times and public discourse around race, justice, and policing. Kevin Young published a poem about “Victor 25448” in 2001. The director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and poetry editor of The New Yorker wrote a brief essay about the painting for Phillips.

“The phrases and engagement with existence found in a painting like Victor 25448 evoke loss, even despair—the cartoonish brown body, pictured beaten or defeated, might seem prophetic. But of what? In our fiery time, Victor 25448 doesn’t seem to me merely a personal painting—instead, it pictures, as cartoons often do, a bent reality bigger than any autobiography,” Young said.

“While others of his works offer more explicit comments on police brutality—take Defacement about the killing by police of his friend, the artist Michael Stewart—Victor 25448 also conjures violence, practically enacting it.”

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of “Victor 25448” were pledged to the Art for Justice Fund. The initiative was started by philanthropist Agnes Gund in collaboration with the Ford Foundation to reduce mass incarceration. When collectors sell artworks, they are encouraged to direct the proceeds to the fund, which provides grants to artists and advocates who are “focused on safely reducing the prison population, promoting justice reinvestment and creating art that changes the narrative around mass incarceration.”

Given the charitable benefit and the fact that the painting is described as one of the largest works on paper Basquiat ever made (it measures 72 x 131 inches), the lot was heavily promoted in advance of the sale. When “Victor 25448” came up for bid, however, interest was lukewarm. The lot sold for $9,250,000, against an estimate of $8 million-$12 million. The consigner acquired the painting at Christie’s New York in 2008 for $3.5 million.

“While others of his works offer more explicit comments on police brutality—take Defacement about the killing by police of his friend, the artist Michael Stewart—Victor 25448 also conjures violence, practically enacting it.”
— Kevin Young

Evening Sale, Lot 10: JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT, Victor 25448,” 1987 (acrylic, oilstick, wax and crayon on paper laid on canvas, 72 x 131 inches, 182.9 x 332.7 cm). | Estimate $8 million-$12 million. Sold for $9,250,000 fees included


WHEN LOT 14 WAS OFFERED, it marked the first time a painting by Quaicoe was sold at a major auction. (His work appeared a couple of months ago in an Artsy sale benefiting the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco.) “Shade of Black” (2018) sold for $250,000, about 10 times expectations ($20,000-$30,000).

The painting exemplifies Quaicoe’s approach to portraiture. His powerful images celebrate Blackness and individuality and employ stunning color stories. Born in Accra, Ghana, Quaicoe lives and works in Portland, Ore. “Black Like Me,” his first U.S. solo exhibition was on view at Roberts Projects in Los Angeles earlier this year.

Last year, Boafo told Culture Type the portraits in his Black Diaspora series are “first a celebration of blackness and second a form of documentation.” A portrait by the artist was Lot 22. “Joy in Purple” (2019) depicts his subject in a white skirt and violet purple top with matching violet purple lipstick. The painting sold for $668,000 about 10 times the estimate ($50,000-$70,000).

Boafo’s work was offered at auction for the first time in February, when “The Lemon Bathing Suit” (2019) sold at Phillips London for $881,550 (675,000 British Pounds), which was also about 10 times the estimate ($50,000-$70,000). It was an impressive initial result for the emerging artist.

His paintings have garnered critical praise and attention from museums, collectors, and speculators. Phillips lot details state that Boafo’s “paintings are rare to market,” despite the fact that in the few months since his auction debut, 11 more paintings, both on canvas and on paper, made between 2017 and 2019, have come to auction. All of them resold in short order after they were acquired, with Boafo reaping no direct benefit from the escalated sales prices. “Joy in Purple” was painted just last year and changed hands three times before showing up at auction.

Born in Accra, Ghana, Boafo is based in Vienna, Austria. Both Quaicoe and Boafo attended Ghanatta College of Art and Design in Accra. Mariane Ibrahim gallery in Chicago is presenting “Amoako Boafo: I Stand By Me,” its solo exhibition with the artist in September.

The painting exemplifies Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe’s approach to portraiture. His powerful images celebrate Blackness and individuality and employ stunning color stories.

Evening Sale, Lot 14: OTIS KWAME KYE QUAICOE, “Shade of Black,” 2018 (oil on canvas, 48 1/8 x 36 inches / 122.2 x 91.4 cm). | Estimate $20,000-$30,000. Sold for $250,000 fees included. AUCTION DEBUT


Evening Sale, Lot 22: AMOAKO BOAFO, “Joy in Purple,” 2019 (oil on canvas, 81 1/2 x 77 1/4 inches / 207 x 196.2 cm). Estimate $50,000-$70,000 fees included. Sold for $668,000


SALES ACTIVITIES WERE PAUSED in mid-March to contain the spread of COVID-19. After a series of online auctions, Phillips re-emerged with a modified approach to live sales that reflects adaptations being made across the auction industry.

In-person participation on salesroom floors has been curtailed, for now at least, in favor of phone and online bidding. Phillips’s version of the new normal reflects its standing as the third-largest auction house in the business. The live auction featured an elaborate staging in a custom-designed London studio where staff fielded bids from around the world with the auctioneer connected via a live video feed from New York.

Concerns over whether the economic slow-down in the wake of the virus or the new remote auction format would temper buyer enthusiasm, were answered with average results. The total for the evening sale was $41.1 million, with fees included, against an estimate of $29.4 million-$41.6 million (The hammer total was $34.7 million, right in the middle of projections.)

The evening auction at Phillips was preceded by contemporary sales earlier in the day that totaled $10.2 million, fees included. All were more modest in size than usual, with 25 lots in the evening, 111 in the afternoon, and 57 in the morning, where works by Wilfredo Lam and Ed Clark were offered.

Three of the first four lots in the afternoon sale were by black artists—Jonathan Lyndon Chase, Nina Chanel Abney, and Boafo. “Clothes Shopping” (2018), a painting by Philadelphia-based Chase, opened the sale and sold for $50,000, more than three times the high estimate. “Mr. Baker” (2017) by Abney went for about three times expectations ($60,000-$80,000) reaching $225,000. Boafo’s “After the nail color” (2018) was among the top 10 lots (No. 9) in the sale. Estimated at $50,000-$70,000, the painting sold for much more—$225,000.

Also in the afternoon sale, a new artist record was set for Georgia-born, New York-based Walter Price when his abstract painting “Aset! Go Tell it on the Mountain” (2017) sold for $43,750, against an estimate of $15,000-$20,000.

Works by several additional black artists were represented, including Michael Ray Charles, Robert Colescott, Noah Davis, Oscar Murillo, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Cheri Samba, Shinique Smith, Jeff Sonhouse, Carrie Mae Weems, Kehinde Wiley, Fred Wilson, and Hank Willis Thomas and Sanford Biggers. CT


WATCH MORE See Kevin Young recite his poem about Basquiat’s “Victor 25448”


FIND MORE Writing in The Art Newspaper, Maxwell Anderson explains Why American artists should benefit from the resale of their works

READ MORE Also in The Art Newspaper, Olivia Anani asks Can the art market be an ally in the fight for racial equality?


Evening Sale, Lot 15: CHARLES WHITE, “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” 1958 (ink and wash on board, 40 x 52 7/8 inches / 101.6 x 134.3 cm). | Estimate $700,000-$1 million. Sold for $800,000


Afternoon Sale, Lot 201: JONATHAN LYNDON CHASE, “Clothes Shopping,” 2018 (acrylic, marker, pastel and glitter on muslin, 39 1/2 x 39 1/2 inches / 100.3 x 100.3 cm). | Estimate $10,000-$15,000. Sold for $50,000 fees included


Afternoon Sale, Lot 203: NINA CHANEL ABNEY, “Mr. Baker,” 2017 (acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 48 1/8 x 36 1/4 inches / 122.2 x 92.1 cm). Estimate $60,000-$80,000. Sold for $175,000 fees included


Afternoon Sale, Lot 204: AMOAKO BOAFO, “After the nail color,” 2018 (oil on canvas, 78 3/4 x 62 3/4 inches / 200 x 159.4 cm). | Estimate $50,000-$70,000. Sold for $225,000 fees included


Afternoon Sale, Lot 219: WALTER PRICE WALTER PRICE, “Aset! Go Tell it on the Mountain,” 2015 (acrylic on canvas, 18 x 24 inches / 45.7 x 61 cm). | Estimate $15,000-$20,000. Sold for $43,750 fees included. 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.