PHILLIPS MOST RECENT 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale was front loaded with works by Black artists—six of the first seven lots. Five of the artists were Black women.

An untitled painting by rising artist Joy Labinjo, a charming narrative self-portrait with her mother, was Lot 1, opening the auction. A figurative painting portraying two dark figures in reclining embrace by emerging artist Tunji Adeniyi-Jones, set a new auction record. The sale was April 15 in London.


Lot 1: JOY LABINJO, “Untitled,” 2018 (oil, acrylic and household paint on canvas, 145 x 195 cm / 57 1/8 x 76 3/4 inches). | Estimate 20,000-30,000 British Pounds (A portion of the seller’s proceeds of sale for this lot will benefit the South London Gallery). Sold for $95,526 (69,300 British Pounds) fees included


Labinjo, Adeniyi-Jones, Lina Iris Viktor, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Jordan Casteel, and Mickalene Thomas were represented among the early lots.

There were 33 lots in the sale and Adeniyi-Jones’s “Love Ritual” (2019) set the sole auction record. The painting exemplifies his practice. Born in London, Adeniyi-Jones has an MFA from the Yale School of Art (2017). Now based in New York, he draws on his Yoruba background for inspiration and his approach to working with the figure.

“The figures depicted in my paintings are very alluring and striking. Many of their poses invoke a sense of performance or dance,” Adeniyi-Jones said in an interview with Destinee Ross for “Black Voices/Black Microcosm,” the Spring 2020 exhibition she curated at CFHILL Art Space in Stockholm.

“There are thousands of different dialects spoken across West Africa but one of the most unifying languages is communicated through the body. This language of dance and performance transcends all cultural boundaries and my intention is to charge the bodies in my paintings with this same vigor.”

“Love Ritual” portrays two figures against an enchanting background. Finding comfort in one another’s curves, they effectively form a single body that appears to be floating in a deep blue aquatic garden. Estimated to sell for $41,353-$55,138 (30,000-40,000 British Pounds), “Love Ritual” garnered well over three times expectations, reaching a record-setting $208,550 (151,200 British Pounds, fees included with all results).

Only three paintings by the artist have come to auction, the first in December 2020. “Red Twins III” at Phillips New York marked his auction debut. The work was well received, selling for $163,800, about eight times the high estimate ($15,000-$20,000). Subsequently, when a comparable work was slated for sale three months later, the estimate had tripled, jumping to $40,000-$60,000. That painting, “Between the Blue Vine” (2018), sold at Sotheby’s New York for $138,600 on March 12, 2021.

The work of Adeniyi-Jones covers the highly acclaimed exhibition catalog, “Young, Gifted and Black: A New Generation of Artists, The Lumpkin-Boccuzzi Family Collection of Contemporary Art.” The volume was featured on Culture Type’s list of Best Black Art Books of 2020.

A British-Nigerian artist, Labinjo was born in London. Her work is about storytelling and memories. Family photographs from two decades of personal archives provide a visual foundation for her paintings. Her Untitled work, a self-portrait of the artist as a child with her mother, made in 2018, sold for $95,526 (69,300 British Pounds), more than twice the high estimate ($27,569-$41,353 / 20,000-30,000 British Pounds).

The current auction record for Labinjo was just set on March 23, 2021, when “No Wahala” (2019) sold for $208,007 (150,000 British Pounds) at Christies London, about four times the estimate.

At the Phillips sale, works by Viktor and Ojih Odutola also exceeded estimates. Meanwhile, portraits by Casteel and Thomas sold within expectations.

The Evening Sale also featured one of El Anatsui‘s celebrated sculptural textiles. “Plot a Plan IV” (2007) is composed of aluminum and copper wire and the ground is deep red with striped, grid, and color-blocked accents particularly prominent along the perimeter. The work was acquired in 2008 from Jack Shainman Gallery in New York. It narrowly sold over the high estimate for 942,100 British Pounds ($1,299,439). The price was among the highest in the sale, ranked No. 7 among the top lots. CT


FIND MORE about Tunji Adeniyi-Jones, Joy Labinjo, Jordan Casteel, and Lina Iris Viktor on their websites


FIND MORE 50 years ago an artist’s manifesto called for “the right to claim 15 percent of any resale profits, giving artists a voice in how their work is used and a share in its future value”


Lot 6: TUNJI ADENIYI-JONES, “Love Ritual,” 2019 (oil on canvas, 160.7 x 190.5 cm / 63 1/4 x 75 inches). | Estimate 30,000-40,000 British Pounds. Sold for $163,800 (151,200 British Pounds) fees included. RECORD


Lot 2: LINA IRIS VIKTOR, “Constellations III,” 2016 (24 karat gold, acrylic and gouache on canvas, 213.4 x 152.4 cm / 84 x 60 inches). | Estimate 30,000-50,000 British Pounds. Sold for $269,212 (195,300 British Pounds) fees included


Lot 5: Toyin Ojih Odutola
TOYIN OJIH ODUTOLA, “LTS IV,” 2014 (charcoal, pastel and marker on paper, 106.9 x 167.7 cm (42 1/8 x 66 inches). | Estimate 100,000-150,000 British Pounds. Sold for $521,059 (378,000 British Pounds) fees included


Lot 7: JORDAN CASTEEL, “Quinn,” 2015 (oil on canvas, 106.7 x 91.4 cm / 42 x 35 7/8 inches). | Estimate 150,000-200,000 British Pounds. Sold for $321,318 (233,100 British Pounds) fees included


Lot 8: MICKALENE THOMAS, “Clarivel Right,” 2014 (rhinestones, acrylic, oil, enamel and glitter on wood panel, 213.5 x 152.5 cm / 84 x 60 inches). | Estimate 220,000-350,000 British Pounds. Sold for $434,216 (315,000 British Pounds) fees included


Lot 14: EL ANATSUI, “Plot a Plan IV,” 2007 (aluminium and copper wire, 210.8 x 252.7 cm / 83 x 99 1/2 inches). | Estimate 650,000-850,000 British Pounds. Sold for $1,298,650 (942,100 British Pounds) fees included


A painting by Tunji Adeniyi-Jones covers the catalog “Young, Gifted and Black: A New Generation of Artists, The Lumpkin-Boccuzzi Family Collection of Contemporary Art.” Published on the occasion of her first solo museum exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art, “Lina Iris Viktor: A Haven. A Hell” is the first publication of the artist’s work. A Dream Deferred“Jordan Casteel: Within Reach” accompanied the artist’s exhibition at the New Museum, her first solo museum show in New York. “A Matter of Fact: Toyin Ojih Odutola” was published to accompany a solo exhibition at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco. It is the first exhibition catalog dedicated to the Toyin Ojih Odutola’s work. A catalog was published to accompany “For Opacity: Elijah Burgher, Toyin Ojih Odutola, and Nathaniel Mary Quinn” (available in digital and print, from the Center). “Toyin Ojih Odutola: A Countervailing Theory” was published to coincide with the artist’s recent exhibition at the Barbican Centre in London. Recently published volumes focusing on the work of Mickalene Thomas include “Mickalene Thomas: Femmes Noires” and “Mickalene Thomas: I Can’t See You Without Me.” Also consider “Muse: Mickalene Thomas: Photographs.”


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