WORKS BY AN ECLECTIC MIX of artists were offered at Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated auction on Oct. 2 in New York. Important figures from the second half of the 20th century were featured alongside today’s most critically recognized contemporary artists. Five African American artists were ranked among the 10 top-10 highest-priced works by Kerry James Marshall (2), Barkley L. Hendricks (3), Jean-Michel Basquiat (4), Titus Kaphar (7), and Romare Bearden (8). Works by Kaphar, Romare Bearden, Edward Clark, Melvin Edwards, and Simone Leigh established new artist records.

The auction sales total was nearly $30.6 million, fees included. 242 lots were offered. 182 sold and, unable to find buyers, 60 went unsold.


Lot 4: BARKLEY L. HENDRICKS (1945-2017), “Latin From Manhattan…The Bronx Actually,” 1980 (oil and acrylic on canvas, 66 1⁄8 x 50 1⁄4 inches / 168 x 127.6 cm., framed: 68 1⁄2 x 52 1⁄4 inches / 174 x 52.3 cm). | Estimate $700,000-$1 million. Sold for $1,472,000 fees included (hammer price $1.2 million)


“The Wonderful One,” an early charcoal drawing by Marshall, was an attention getter. Marshall’s full-figure drawing was produced in 1986 during his residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem. The figure echoes Marshall’s “A Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of His Former Self,” made six years earlier.

As noted previously on Culture Type, in a report about the artist’s “Mastry” retrospective, the 1980 work was seminal. It was “Marshall’s first exploration of the tensions between visibility and invisibility. Two years earlier, when he read the novel “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, the concept crystalized for him. The painting also signaled his embrace of figuration and commitment to painting black figures with black paint and considering blackness in cultural, social, and aesthetic terms.”

Slated as Lot 5, when the sale began, the auctioneer said “The Wonderful One” had been withdrawn from the sale. Hours later, after Lot 214 sold, Marshall’s work re-entered the sale. The drawing garnered great interest and sold for more than twice the high estimate ($500,000-$700,000), yielding $1.5 million (fees included in all prices cited, unless otherwise noted).

When the Marshall lot closed, the auctioneer said, “That was worth reinserting.” The result was second only to “Ember” (1960) by Kenneth Noland, the auction’s top-seller. From Noland’s celebrated target series, the painting sold for nearly $2.6 million.

“Latin From Manhattan…The Bronx Actually” (1980) was featured in “Barkley Hendricks: Birth of the Cool.” The traveling retrospective opened in 2008 and brought renewed attention to the artist’s masterful portraits. A striking female portrait, “Latin From Manhattan…” was the third most expensive lot in the sale. It sold for $1,472,000, surpassing the $700,000-$1 million estimate.

Dressed in all black, Hendricks’s Bronx-bred subject wears a trench coat with ribbed sleeves, long loose pants, and loafers. Her hair is coiffed in a golden-brown snatch back and her thin eyebrows are precisely drawn, complementing her frosted eyeshadow and strokes of blush highlighting her cheekbones.

As art historian Richard Powell has described the artist’s subjects, she is “self-possessed, self-conscious, and self-fashioned.” Hendricks made the portrait on the cusp of the 1980s. Her rigorously honed style reflects the era. The title couldn’t be more fitting.

As art historian Richard Powell has described the Barkley L. Hendricks’s subjects, she is “self-possessed, self-conscious, and self-fashioned.”

A large, 84 x 96-inch abstract painting by Clark set a new record for the artist. “Scarlett Red” (1962) sold for $576,600, nearly four times the high estimate ($100,000-$150,000). Clark’s previous record was set in November 2019 at Christie’s New York when a 1998 painting, “Untitled (Paris Series),” sold for $495,000.

Titus Kaphar‘s 2018 portrait of Thomas Jefferson with his head and hands covered with black tar garnered $854,900, a new auction high for the artist’s work. The painting exemplifies a large aspect of the artist’s practice which has emphasized reconstructing and reinterpreting accepted histories by physically manipulating his canvases and obscuring and re-contextualizing his subjects.


Lot 2 (From the Collection of Joseph & Blanche Blank): ROMARE BEARDEN (1911-1988), “The Fortune Teller,” 1968 (paper collage and acrylic on board, 30 x 40 inches / 76.2 x 101.6 cm., framed: 31¾ x 41¾ inches / 80.6 x 106 cm). | Estimate $150,000-$200,000. Sold for $770,200 fees included (hammer price $620,000). RECORD


Carrying a lengthy title that begins “Page 4 of Jefferson’s ‘Farm Book’…,” the painting was prominently featured in “Memory Matters,” a group exhibition about collective memory presented at the Skissernas Museum in Sweden (2018-19).

Gagosian announced its representation of Kaphar earlier this year. “Titus Kaphar: From a Tropical Space,” the artist’s first solo exhibition with the gallery, is currently on view in New York through Dec. 19. The price for the tarred Jefferson portrait surpassed Kaphar’s previous auction record, established a few months ago in July when “Still Hungry!” (2008) reached $350,000 at Christie’s New York.

Contemporary Curated featured works from several private collections. Two Bearden collages from the collection of Joseph and Blanche Blank showed up early in the sale. “The Fortune Teller” (1968) and “Vamp Time – Chicago (Of the Blues)” (1974), were the second and third lots to hit the auction block. A paper collage and acrylic on board, “The Fortune Teller” sold for $770,200, establishing a new record for Bearden for the first time in eight years.

The new benchmark doubles the artist’s previous record, established in May 2012, when “Strange Morning, Interior” (1968) sold for $338,500 at Christie’s New York.

Longtime collectors, the Blanks assembled a diverse collection over decades that included a panoply of African American artists, Bearden, Edwards, Jacob Lawrence, Elizabeth Catlett, Faith Ringgold, and Whitfield Lovell, among them.

Blanche Blank was a professor and dean of social sciences, who served a stint as interim president of Hunter College (1993-95). She died in 2003. Joseph Blank lived for nearly 20 more years. The second generation owner of J.S. Blank & Co, a New York City-based neckwear company, he died earlier this year in April. Many works of art from their collection were among the highlights in Contemporary Curated and adjacent online sales at Sotheby’s.

Select lots in Contemporary Curated benefitted Planned Parenthood. Works by Leigh, Rashid Johnson, Firelei Báez, and Nari Ward were sold in support of The High Line in New York.

Leigh’s work focuses on Black female subjectivity, drawing on African motifs and architectural forms. “No Face (House)” a terracotta, porcelain, and raffia sculpture made this year, reached more than twice the high estimate ($100,000-$150,000). It brought $403,200, a new artist record.


Lot 210 (Benefitting The High Line): SIMONE LEIGH (born 1967), “No Face (House),” 2020 (terracotta, porcelain, ink, epoxy and raffia, 29 x 24 x 24 inches / 73.7 x 61 x 61 cm). | Estimate $100,000-150,000 Sold for $403,200 fees included (hammer price $320,000). RECORD


It’s been a busy few of years for Leigh. She won the 2018 Hugo Boss Prize and participated in the 2019 Whitney Biennial. Nearly a year ago, Leigh joined Hauser & Wirth. Following her recent solo show at David Kordansky gallery in Los Angeles, “Brick House,” her inaugural High Line Plinth installation in New York has been extended and will remain on view through spring 2021.

Ward’s work went unsold. A wall sculpture composed of a black, 36-inch trampoline with shoelaces cascading down from it, “Rebounder” (2019) was estimated at $40,000-$60,000.

Contemporary Curated was front loaded with works by Black artists. Seven of the first 10 lots up for sale were by African American artists—the two Bearden collages, the Hendricks portrait, the Marshall drawing, and two paintings by Clark. In addition, a collaboration by Virgil Abloh opened the auction.

The auction was “co-curated” by Abloh, chief creative director and founder of Off-White and men’s and artistic director at Louis Vuitton, and Gorden Wagener, chief design officer at Mercedes-Benz. The two produced Project Geländewagen, a one-of-a-kind Mercedes-Benz maquette sold to benefit the Virgil Abloh™ ‘Post-Modern’ Scholarship Fund. The fund was established “to foster equity and inclusion within the fashion industry by providing scholarships to students of academic promise of Black, African-American, or African descent.”

Wagener and Abloh each identified their “picks” from the sale. Abloh chose the Hendricks portrait, Marshall’s figurative drawing, and Johnson’s “Untitled Anxious Red Drawing.”

Additional works by Black artists were spread sparsely throughout the rest of the sale. Kenneth Victor Young, Richard Hunt, Sam Gilliam, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe, Charles Gaines, MacArthur Binion, Henry Taylor, Theaster Gates, Kori Newkirk, Lucien Smith, and Michael Armitage, were also among the artists featured.

Toward the end of the auction, an original version of the ubiquitous “Obama Hope” poster by Shepard Fairey was offered. One of three newspaper and collage portraits produced in 2008, the lot sustained the interest of multiple collectors and was bid up to about 10 times the estimate ($50,000-$70,000), selling for $600,800. The result made an optimistic statement. It was a hopeful outcome. CT


READ MORE about why reselling art shortly after it is acquired from an artist or their gallery is problematic


Lot 5: KERRY JAMES MARSHALL (born 1955), “The Wonderful One,” 1986 (charcoal on paper, 50 x 38 inches / 127 x 96.5 cm). | Estimate $500,000-$700,000. Sold for $1,774,500 fees included (hammer price $1,450,000)


Lot 8: EDWARD CLARK (1926-2019), “Scarlett Blue,” 1962 (oil on canvas, 84 x 96 inches / 213.4 x 243.9 cm). | Estimate $100,000-$150,000. Sold for $576,600 fees included (hammer price $480,000). RECORD


Lot 29: KENNETH VICTOR YOUNG (1933-2017), “Untitled,” 1971 (acrylic on paper, 35⅝ x 27⅛ inches / 68.9 x 90.5 cm., framed: 42½ by 38¾ in. 108 by 98.4 cm). | Estimate $18,000-$25,000. Sold to $32,760 fees included (hammer price $26,000)


Lot 39: BARKLEY L. HENDRICKS (1945-2017), “Magnolia #4,” 1978 (watercolor on paper, 14⅝ x 22 inches / 37.1 by 55.9 cm., framed: 19⅞ x 27 inches / 50.5 x 68.6 cm.). | Estimate $25,000-$35,000. Sold for $44,100 fees included (hammer price $35,000)


Lot 61 (From the Collection of Joseph & Blanche Blank): MELVIN EDWARDS (born 1937), “Viva Cuito Cuanavale,” 1988 (welded steel, 14 x 18 x 10 inches / 35.6 x 45.7 x 25.4 cm). | Estimate $30,000-$40,000. Sold for $81,900 fees included (hammer price $65,000)


Lot 64 (From the Collection of Joseph & Blanche Blank): MELVIN EDWARDS (born 1937), “Culture,” 1988 (welded steel, 61 x 37 x 18 inches / 155 x 94 x 45.7 cm). | Estimate $40,000-$60,000. Sold for $119,700 (hammer price $95,000). RECORD


Lot 65 (From the Collection of Joseph & Blanche Blank): JACOB LAWRENCE (1917-2000), “Street Scene,” 1964 (tempera and gouache on paper, 30⅜ x 22½ inches / 77.2 x 57.2 cm., framed: 36¾ x 29 inches / 93.3 x 73.7 cm). | Estimate $120,000-$220,000. Sold for $151,000 (hammer price $120,000)


Lot 118: RICHARD HUNT (born 1935), “Wing Bloom,” 1957 (steel, 76¼ x 43¼ x 35 inches / 193.7 x 109.9 x 88.9 cm). | Estimate $25,000-$35,000. Sold for $138,600 fees included


Lot 203: OTIS KWAME KYE QUAICOE (born 1990), “Girl in White Dress,” 2018 (oil on canvas, 60 x 48 inches / 152.4 x 121.9 cm). | Estimate $40,000-$60,000. Sold for $138,600 fees included (hammer price $110,000)


Lot 211 (Benefitting The High Line): RASHID JOHNSON (born 1977), “Untitled Anxious Red Drawing,” 2020 (oil on cotton rag, 38 1⁄4 by 50 in. 97.2 by 127 cm.; framed: 40⅞ x 53 inches / 103.8 x 134.6 cm). | Estimate $50,000-$70,000. Sold for $226,800 fees included (hammer price $180,000)


Lot 212 (Benefitting The High Line): FIRELEI BÁEZ (born 1981), “Slooshying the Sluice of Lovely Sounds. Oh, It Was Gorgeousness and Gorgeosity Made Flesh.” 2020 (acryla-gouache and acrylic polymer on yupo paper, 20½ x 16 inches / 52 x 40.6 cm). | Estimate $8,000-$12,000. Sold for $56,700 fees included (hammer price $45,000)


Lot 204: TITUS KAPHAR (born 1972), “Page 4 of Jefferson’s ‘Farm Book,’ January 1774, Goliath, Hercules, Jupiter, Gill, Fanny, Ned, Sucky, Frankey, Gill, Nell, Bella, Charles, Jenny, Betty, June, Toby, Duna (sic), Cate, Hannah, Rachael, George, Ursula, George, Bagwell, Archy, Frank, Bett, Scilla, ?” 2018 (oil and tar on linen mounted on panel, 60 x 48 inches / 152.4 by 121.9 cm). | Sold for $854,900 fees included (hammer price $690,000). RECORD


A new series of books documents the practice of Barkley L. Hendricks, volumes include “Barkley L. Hendricks: Works on Paper,” “Barkley L. Hendricks: Landscape Paintings,” “Barkley L. Hendricks: Basketball.” Recently re-issued, “Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of the Cool” accompanied his traveling retrospective. “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry,” was published to coincide with Kerry James Marshall’s 35-year traveling retrospective. Other recent volumes include “Kerry James Marshall: Painting and Other Stuff,” “Kerry James Marshall,” released by Phaidon, and “Kerry James Marshall: History of Painting,” which explores the artist’s 2018 exhibition at David Zwirner Gallery in London. In addition, the exhibition catalog “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” features artists whose work was offered in the auction, including Hendricks, Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, Sam Gilliam, and Melvin Edwards. A recent exhibition catalog (“Something Over Something Else”: Romare Bearden’s Profile Series), biography (“An American Odyssey: The Life and Work of Romare Bearden”), and collection of essays (“The Romare Bearden Reader”) explore the life and practice of Bearden.


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