A DOUBLE PORTRAIT by Amy Sherald set an astronomic new auction record Dec. 7 at Phillips New York. “The Bathers” (2015) soared to $4,265,000 against a low-six figure estimate of $150,000-$200,000. The painting sold for about 20 times its high estimate with bidding ongoing for 15 minutes.

“The Bathers” was the first lot in the 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale and, among the results, it was the fifth highest-priced lot. Works by four other Black artists—Jadé Fadojutimi, Vaughn Spann, Kehinde Wiley, and Mickalene Thomas—also set new records at the sale.


Lot 1: AMY SHERALD, “The Bathers,” 2015 (oil on canvas, 72 1/8 x 67 inches / 183.2 x 170.2 cm). | Estimate $150,000-$200,000. Sold for ($3.5 million hammer price) $4,265,000 fees included. ARTIST RECORD


“The Bathers” is only the second painting by Sherald to come to auction and the price it achieved shattered the artist’s previous benchmark. Her work debuted at auction in May 2019 when “Innocent You, Innocent Me,” a portrait of a young man in a wide-striped hoodie, sold for $350,000 at Christie’s.

Aptly titled, “The Bathers” portrays two young females wearing relatively modest, brightly colored swimsuits. Holding hands, standing side-by-side, they are gazing directly at the viewer. The painting is one of seven presented in Sherald’s recent traveling exhibition, a major solo show organized by the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (2018-19).

Sherald’s contemporary portrait composed on a solid background offers a counter-representation to a long established genre of European paintings whose white subjects, lounging near bodies of water wearing bathing suits or in the nude, are described as “bathers.” Her work shares the same title as a painting by Paul Cezanne (“The Bathers,” 1898-1905). Gauguin, Seurat, and Renoir are among the other artists known for 19th century post-Impressionist paintings with similar themes and titles.

Works by Barkley L. Hendricks (1945-2017), Charles White (1918-1979), Glenn Ligon, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Amoako Boafo, and Titus Kaphar, were also offered in the sale.

Fifty years ago, “Roots” (1963) by White was featured in “Three Graphic Artists: Charles White, David Hammons, Timothy Washington,” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Jan. 26-March 7, 1971). The ink on board work sold in line with the estimate for $877,000.


Lot 2: JADÉ FADOJUTIMI, “Lotus Land,” 2017 (47 1/2 x 59 inches / 120.7 x 149.9 cm). Estimate $40,000-$60,000. Sold for ($300,000 hammer price) $378,000 fees included. ARTIST RECORD


Two up-and-coming artists are among the record breakers. During his MFA program at Yale, Spann began a series of rainbow paintings dedicated to the memory of Trayvon Martin. A black arc is included in each rainbow. The artist has said he “wanted to put blackness back into the spectrum.”

From Spann’s rainbow series, “Big Black Rainbow (Deep Dive)” (2019) exceeded expectations selling for $239,400, about four times the high estimate. His previous record was set just last week, when “I grew an extra head to watch over my brother (The Middle of Nowhere)” (2018) sold for $187,500 at Christie’s. New Haven, Conn.-based Spann joined Almine Rech Gallery in 2019.

Fadojutimi’s “Lotus Land” (2017) far exceeded expectations selling for $378,000, a new artist recrod, against an estimate of $40,000-$60,000. Employing a dramatic, lush-colored palette, the abstract painting was produced during the last year of her master’s program at the Royal College of Art.

Her work debuted at auction in October in an online sale at Christie’s. A pair of works on paper, (i) Rampage and (ii) Untitled Study (2017) was the first lot in the First Open: Post-War & Contemporary Art Online sale and sold for 40,000 British Pounds ($52,260), more than 10 times the estimate.

Paintings by London-based Fadojutimi were recently on view in “Jesture,” a solo exhibition at Pippy Houldsworth Gallery in London. She is participating in the Liverpool Biennial 2021 and her first U.S. solo show will be presented at the Institute of Contemporary Art Miami in November 2021.


Lot 12: BARKLEY L. HENDRICKS, “Selina/Star,” 1980 (oil and acrylic on linen, 60 1/8 x 50 1/8 inches / 152.7 x 127.3 cm). | Estimate $800,000-$1.2 million. Sold for ($750,000 hammer price) $937,500 fees included


The paintings by Sherald, Hendricks, Wiley, and Thomas came from the Collection of Pamela K. and William A. Royall Jr., which is focused in part on African American contemporary art. Patrons of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA), the Royalls have donated more than 100 works of art to the Richmond museum and were instrumental in the VMFA’s acquisition of Wiley’s monumental “Rumors of War” (2019) sculpture. William Royall, who previously served as president of the VMFA board of trustees (2014-16), died in July.

Twenty-six works from the Royall Collection have been consigned for sale at Phillips. Thirteen by Black artists were offered in contemporary auctions held Dec. 3 (“Well Kept,” 2010, by Titus Kaphar, sold in Hong Kong) and Dec. 7-8.

Offered in the Evening Sale, “Selina/Star” (1980) by Hendricks is a standing portrait of a Latina woman. Exemplifying the artist’s limited-palette paintings, she is rendered against a golden yellow background that blends with her pants and contrasts with her sea blue top. The subject is the daughter of one of the artist’s friends. “Selina/Star” was not on view in “Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of the Cool,” the artist’s traveling retrospective, but the painting is illustrated in the exhibition catalog.

Portrait paintings by Hendricks have garnered about $1 million to $4 million at auction since his death in 2017. Response to “Selina/Star” was lukewarm. Estimated to sell for $800,000 to $1.2 million, the lot hammered below that range at $750,000, selling for $937,500 with fees included. (A new Hendricks record was set the day after, when “Mr. Johnson (Sammy From Miami)” sold for $4 million at Sotheby’s on Dec. 8, 2020.)

“Portrait of Mickalene Thomas, the Coyote” by Wiley sold for $378,000, more than twice the high estimate and a new record for the artist. Wiley has on occasion painted well-known figures—President Barack Obama, LL Cool J, Michael Jackson—but he usually focuses on ordinary individuals he street casts in communities around the world.


Lot 33: KEHINDE WILEY, “Portrait of Mickalene Thomas, the Coyote,” 2017 (oil on canvas, in artist’s frame, 130 3/8 x 94 7/8 x 4 1/2 inches / 331.2 x 241 x 11.4 cm). Estimate $100,000 -$150,000. Sold for ($300,000 hammer price) $378,000 fees included. ARTIST RECORD


By contrast, his portrait of Thomas is part of a series he made for “Kehinde Wiley: Trickster” (May 6-June 17, 2017) at Sean Kelly Gallery. The exhibition featured portraits of his peers, a dozen highly acclaimed Black artists: Thomas, Derrick Adams, Sanford Biggers, Nick Cave, Rashid Johnson, Glenn Ligon, Kerry James Marshall, Wangechi Mutu, Yinka Shonibare, Hank Willis Thomas, Carrie Mae Weems, and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.

Described by the gallery, in the series, Wiley explores “the range of ways that artists engage with and draw from the world around them. He employs the mythological trickster trope––existent in nearly every culture’s folklore––to not only examine how artists disrupt the status quo and change the way in which we think, but as a signifier of how people of color navigate both real and symbolic social boundaries inherent to their blackness.”

Following Wiley’s new record, two lots later, a work by Thomas set a new artist record. “I’ve Been Good To Me” (2013) is an excellent representation of the artist’s practice, which is centered around powerful images of Black women. Transgender model Qusuquzah is the subject of this one and she gets the full-Thomas treatment, depicted with rhinestones, acrylic, enamel, silkscreen and oil on panel. The mixed-media painting sold for $901,200, three times the high estimate. The result is a marked increase over her previous record, achieved last year when another 2013 painting, “Naomi Looking Forward,” sold at Sotheby’s London for 567,000 British Pounds ($699,111).

Phillips Evening Sale featured 31 lots and realized $134.6 million, which was the highest total for a New York auction in the company’s history. The milestone is a particularly notable feat given the challenges due to the pandemic this year and the innovations auctions houses have had to introduce in order to conduct auctions safely and effectively.

The Dec. 8 Morning and Afternoon Sessions of Phillips Contemporary Day Sale featured works from the Royall Collection by Kaphar, Bill Traylor, Beauford Delaney (2), Alex Gardner, Henry Taylor, and McArthur Binion (2). The Delaney paintings, a 1964 self-portrait and a street scene produced in 1968, performed particularly well. CT


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


Lot 3: VAUGHN SPANN, “Big Black Rainbow (Deep Dive),” 2019 (80 1/4 x 84 1/4 inches / 203.8 x 214 cm). | Estimate $40,000-$60,000. Sold for ($190,000 hammer price) $239,400 fees included. ARTIST RECORD


Lot 30: CHARLES WHITE, “Roots,” 1963 (ink on board, 37 x 54 inches / 94 x 137.2 cm). | Estimate $500,000-$700,000. Sold for ($700,000 hammer price) $877,000 including fees


Lot 35: MICKALENE THOMAS, I’ve Been Good To Me,” 2013 (rhinestones, acrylic, enamel, silkscreen and oil on panel, 108 x 84 inches / 274.3 x 213.4 cm). | Estimate $200,000-$300,000. Sold for ($720,000 hammer price) $901,200 fees included. ARTIST RECORD


Lot 410: ALEX GARNDER, “Moment, 2018 (acrylic on linen, 60 x 60 inches / 152.4 x 152.4 cm). | Estimate $20,000-$30,000. Sold for $170,100 fees included. AUCTION DEBUT


Lot 193: BEAUFORD DELANEY, “Self Portrait,” 1964 (oil on canvas, 18 1/8 x 13 1/8 inches / 46 x 33.3 cm). | Estimate $30,000-$40,000. Sold for $315,000 fees included


Lot 107: BEAUFORD DELANEY, “Street Scene,” 1968 (oil on canvas, 38 1/8 x 51 1/8 inches / 96.8 x 129.9 cm). | Estimate $120,000 – 180,000. Sold for $478,800 fees included


“Amy Sherald” was published to accompany the artist’s recent traveling exhibition. Organized by the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, the solo show featured her record-setting painting, “The Bathers” (2015). “Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of the Cool” accompanied the artist’s traveling retrospective, organized by the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Also consider, “Beauford Delaney and James Baldwin: Through the Unusual Door,” published earlier this year.


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.