PAINTINGS BY 10 OF THE MOST HIGHLY REGARDED Black contemporary artists active today were featured in Christie’s inaugural 21st Century Evening Sale in New York. Six set new artist records, including four figurative works by women artists.

Nina Chanel Abney‘s powerful 2015 painting of two Black cops arresting a white man sold for $990,000. “Jiréh” (2013) by Jordan Casteel, from her Visible Man series reached $$687,500. A compelling group portrait by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye from 2009, garnered more than $1.9 million. “Racquel Reclining Wearing Purple Jumpsuit” (2016) by Mickalene Thomas sold for more than $1.8 million, marking the first time her work sold for more than $1 million at auction.

El Anatsui and Rashid Johnson also achieved new records with abstract works. Results for Abney, Johnson, and Thomas, shattered their existing artist records and far exceeded estimates.

A standing portrait of Nat Turner by Kerry James Marshall and paintings by Henry Taylor, Amoako Boafo, and Mark Bradford were also offered in the May 11 auction.

Results for Nina Chanel Abney, Mickalene Thomas, and Rashid Johnson shattered their existing artist records and far exceeded estimates.

Christie’s opened its spring season with live bidding in the salesroom for the first time since health precautions due to the COVID-19 pandemic forced auction houses to shift their procedures and introduce virtual sales. The new season also brought changes to the post-war and contemporary art evening sale, which was re-branded with separate auctions for 20th century and 21st century art. The latter spanning the past 40 years.

Explaining the new approach in a statement following the auction, Christie’s said the 21st century “concept was carefully designed as a high-profile presentation that gives greater visibility to a diversity of artists, and engages a broader group of collectors at a range of price points. Representing a wide range of artistic styles and movements.”

The 21st century sale featured 37 lots with a sales total of $210,471,500 and 95 percent sell-through rate by lot. Bidders in 29 countries across the United States, Europe and Asia participated in the auction, according to Christie’s. The top selling lot was Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “In This Case” (1983), a red skull painting that sold for more than $93.1 million. Seven of the first 10 lots offered were by Black artists. All told, 11 new records were set, six by Black artists.

 


Lot 9A: LYNETTE YIADOM-BOAKYE (born 1977), “Diplomacy III,” 2009 (oil on canvas, 78 x 98 ½ inches / 198.1 x 250.2 cm). | Estimate $700,000-$1 million. SOLD for $1,950,000 fees included. RECORD

 

British artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye paints fictional characters, timeless figures possessed with a sense of mystery. “Diplomacy III” was featured in “Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Any Number of Preoccupations” (2010-11) at the Studio Museum in Harlem, the artist’s first solo museum exhibition.

The painting calls to mind a group portrait at an African Union gathering of member state representatives. The group is dressed in professional attire. The artist depicts 10 figures in dark European suits, with two others wearing traditional robes. The lone female is more casually dressed in a long white vest and rose pink top, accounting for the only colorful moment in the portrait and providing a counterbalance to the sky-blue background. Nearly everyone makes direct contact with the viewer, or perhaps the photographer. The exception is two figures at the far right, who have turned their attention away from the camera to engage each other.

From the same series, “Diplomacy I” is displayed in “Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Fly In League with the Night,” the artist’s current exhibition at Tate Britain in London. Both “Diplomacy I” and “Diplomacy II” are illustrated in the catalog published to accompany the Tate show, her first major survey.

In 2013, “Diplomacy II” (2009) sold for $235,220 (146,500 British Pounds) at Christie’s London, in stark contrast to the record-setting $1.9 million achieved by “Diplomacy III.” Yiadom-Boakye’s previous record was set in November 2017, when “The Hours Behind You” (2011) sold for $1,575,000 at Sotheby’s New York.

 


Lot 4A: JORDAN CASTEEL (born 1989), “Jiréh,” 2013 (oil on canvas, 72 x 52 inches / 182.9 x 132.1 cm). | Estimate $350,000-$550,000. SOLD for $687,500 fees included. RECORD

 

For her Visible Man series, Jordan Casteel created a body of work featuring young Black men, unclothed in domestic spaces. Her intention was for them to be seen as individuals, giving them visibility and humanity. Rendering their skin tones, she experimented with color, challenging perceptions of Blackness.

Painted while Casteel was pursuing an MFA at Yale School of Art, “Jiréh” (2013), portrays a fellow student, who studied theater. The portrait was on view in “Brothers,” her first solo exhibition at Sargent’s Daughter’s gallery in New York (2014); “Jordan Casteel: Returning the Gaze,” her first solo exhibition at a major art museum, which was organized by the Denver Art Museum and traveled to the Cantor Art Museum at Stanford University; and “Jordan Casteel: Within Reach” at the New Museum, her first solo museum exhibition in New York. The checklists for “Returning the Gaze” and “Within Reach” indicate “Jiréh” was from the collection of Jody Robbins.

Selling for $687,500, just over the high estimate ($350,000-$550,000), “Jiréh” set a new artist record. The result narrowly eclipsed her previous record, set in February 2020 when “Mom” (2013), a portrait of the artist’s mother created the same year as “Jiréh,” sold for $668,248 (515,250 British Pounds) at Christie’s London. The prevailing high mark was meted out by the hammer prices—$550,000 for “Jiréh” vs. $544,715 (420,000 British Pounds) for “Mom.” (Varying fees account for the higher final sale price for “Mom.” The higher hammer price gives the record to “Jiréh.”) “Mom” was included in “Returning the Gaze,” where the checklist cites it was also owned by Robbins.

 


Lot 6A: NINA CHANEL ABNEY (born 1982), “Untitled (XXXXXX),” 2015 (acrylic, ink and spray paint on canvas, in two parts overall: 96 x 96 inches / 243.8 x 243.8 cm). | Estimate $200,000-$300,000. | SOLD for $990,000 fees included. RECORD

 

Nina Chanel Abney’s boldly colored, improvisational works employ a mix of abstraction and figuration. Exploring race, sex, police violence, art history, and the latest current events, she works with a shorthand language of shapes and symbols to document the complexities of contemporary culture and its fast and furious pace.

Throughout her career, Abney has made images that flip expectations and counter stereotypes, from her Parsons thesis show painting “Class of 2007,” in which she depicted fellow MFA students, who were white, as Black prisoners and herself as a white corrections officer, to the current work “Untitled (XXXXXX),” where she casts two Black police officers arresting a white man, challenging prevalent media images that ordinarily show the reverse.

The painting was featured in “Nina Chanel Abney: Royal Flush” (2017-19), the artist’s first solo museum exhibition, a traveling survey organized by the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. According to exhibition checklist, “Untitled (XXXXXX)” was owned by Kansas City, Mo., collectors Bill and Christy Gautreaux.

“Untitled (XXXXXX)” sold for $990,000 setting a new artist record. The result is more than three times the high estimate ($200,000-$300,000) and more than three times Abney’s previous record. In June 2019, “Paradise Found” (2009) sold for $285,335 (225,000 British Pounds) at Sotheby’s London.

 


Lot 32A: MICKALENE THOMAS (born 1971), “Racquel Reclining Wearing Purple Jumpsuit,” 2016 (oil, acrylic, silkscreen, rhinestones, faux pearls, glitter, graphite and flock on wood panel, in two parts, Overall: 96 x 144 inches / 243.8 x 365.8 cm). | Estimate $400,000-$600,000. SOLD for $1,830,000 fees included. RECORD

 

A monumental example of Mickalene Thomas’s inventive mixed-media portraits celebrating Black women, “Racquel Reclining Wearing Purple Jumpsuit” portrays Racquel Chevremont, the artist’s partner, collaborator, and frequent muse. The painting was featured in the 2018 exhibition “Mickalene Thomas: I Can’t See You Without Me,” organized by the Wexner Center for the Arts at Ohio State University in Columbus.

Nicole R. Fleetwood contributed an essay titled “Mickalene Thomas’s World Making” to the exhibition catalog. “Through collage, Thomas combines photographs of sitters with cutouts of found images, textured paper, fabric, rhinestone, and other materials,” Fleetwood wrote. “Her collages center her sitters while fragmenting and disrupting a singular and coherent image of black women and their erotic lives. Photographic details are assembled in cubist cutouts, and abstract figurations emerge in colorful tableaux of formalist compositions and black erotic interiority, as with ‘Racquel Reclining Wearing Purple Jumpsuit.'”

According to the exhibition checklist, “Racquel Reclining Wearing Purple Jumpsuit” was on loan from The Rachel and Jean-Pierre Lehmann Collection. Rachel Lehmann’s gallery, Lehmann Maupin, represented Thomas at the time. The painting shattered expectations, selling for more than $1.8 million, more than three times the high estimate ($400,000-$600,000), setting an artist record. The new high mark is double Thomas’s previous record of $901,200, which was achieved when “I’ve Been Good To Me” (2013) sold at Phillips New York in December 2020.

 


Lot 13A: RASHID JOHNSON (born 1977), “Anxious Red Painting December 18th,” 2020 (oil on linen
72 x 96 inches / 182.9 x 243.8 cm). | Estimate $200,000-$300,000. SOLD for $1,950,000 fees included. RECORD

 

“Anxious Red Painting December 18th” is an extension of Rashid Johnson’s Anxious Men series of crudely drawn abstracted faces representing the contemporary experiences of Black men. Made during a time of uncertainty and isolation due to COVID-19, the dramatic, large-scale painting revisits and transforms the series, initially realized in black-and-white. The artist’s use of red paint to depict the 28 figures conveys an added a sense of urgency in terms of our collective state of mental health.

Estimated to reach $200,000-$300,000, the painting far exceeded expectations and sold for nearly $2 million, more than six times the high estimate. The result nearly doubled Johnson’s previous record, achieved when “Untitled Escape Collage” (2019) sold for $1,160,000 at Sotheby’s New York in May 2019.

Johnson donated “Anxious Red Painting December 18th” to the auction. The sale of the painting benefitted CORE (Community Organized Relief Effort), the disaster response organization co-founded by Sean Penn and Ann Lee. CORE helps people who are impacted by or vulnerable to crisis. In March 2020, the organization turned its attention to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 


Lot 3A: AMOAKO BOAFO (born 1984), “Blue Pullover,” 2018 (oil on canvas laid down on board, 63 x 55 inches / 160 x 139.7 cm). | Estimate $200,000-$300,000. SOLD for $625,000 fees included

 

“Blue Pullover” by Amoako Boafo was featured in “I See Me,” the artist’s first solo exhibition with the Los Angeles gallery Roberts Projects in 2019. Boafo paints portraits of his friends and figures he appreciates—people in his community and those who make space for other’s to exist and create. “I See Me” presented portraits from the artist’s Black Diaspora series. Boafo told Culture Type the series is a “celebration of blackness” and a “form of documentation.”

“Homecoming: The Aesthetic of the Cool,” Boafo’s show with fellow Ghanaian artists Kwesi Botchway and Otis Quaicoe was recently presented at Gallery 1957 in Accra. His second exhibition with Roberts Projects opens in September.

 


Lot 7A: HENRY TAYLOR (born 1958), “Haitian Cemetery,” 2014 (acrylic and ink on canvas, 122 7/8 x 105 7/8 inches / 312 x 269 cm). | Estimate $450,000-$650,000. SOLD for $650,000 fees included

 

In 2013, Henry Taylor and Deana Lawson traveled together to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. It was about a year after the artists first met through their mutual friend, the collector AC Hudgins, and a year before Taylor completed “Haitian Cemetery.”

Taylor and Lawson talked about the experience during a conversation published in BOMB magazine in 2015. “That trip was a key moment in our friendship as well as in our artistic practices—the influence of Haiti can be seen in both of our bodies of work,” Lawson said. “It also gave us insight into each other’s process and the methods that aren’t necessarily visible in the final paintings or photographs.”


Taylor said: “Haiti was a trip, that’s all I can say. But it was so fuckin’ beautiful at the same time.”

 


Lot 10A: MARK BRADFORD (born 1961), “Amendment #1,” 2013 (mixed media on canvas, 48 x 60 inches / 122 x 152.5 cm). | Estimate $2 million-$3 million. SOLD for $5,070,000 fees included

 

Here is how Christie’s described the current painting by Los Angeles artist Mark Bradford:

    “Amendment #1 is the first in a series of ten that take the Bill of Rights as their subject. Spelling out the unalienable rights of Americans as they relate to governmental power, these first ten amendments to the constitution form the backbone of democracy in the United States. In Bradford’s composition, the text reads “Amendment 1 Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    Through his equally additive and destructive processes, the artist obscures arguably the most important rights of the people, and also the most tested in times of censorship, those of freedom of speech, religion, and assembly. Though the laws are made to protect and uplift the populace, Bradford’s presentation suggests that the once clear-cut words have been twisted and tarnished over the years.”

From the same series, Amendment #8 (2014) is in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “What better place than the Smithsonian to have an Amendment painting?” Bradford said in a video about the painting. “It just fits; it makes sense. If you look at what’s going on in the media at the moment with Black male bodies and me being a Black male and doing an Amendment painting and sitting in the Smithsonian—that’s just super layered.”


Lot 12A: KERRY JAMES MARSHALL (born 1955), “Nat-Shango (Thunder),” 1991 Estimate $6,500,000-$8,500,000. SOLD for $7,500,000 fees included

 

Kerry James Marshall has made multiple portraits of Nat Turner. Both “Portrait of Nat Turner with the Head of his Master” (2011) and “The Face of Nat Turner Appeared in a Water Stain (Image Enhanced)” (1990) were featured in “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry” (2016-17), the artist’s 30-year traveling retrospective. “Nat-Shango (Thunder)” was recently on view in “Close-Ups,” a group exhibition at Seattle Art Museum.

“Nat-Shango (Thunder)” was offered at auction from the collection of Greg Kucera and Larry Yocomby, a married couple based in Seattle, where Kucera operates an eponymous gallery.

Reaching $7.5 million with fees, “Nat-Shango (Thunder) hammered at $6,236,000, below the low estimate. Nonetheless, the result ranks it as the third most expensive work by Marshall sold at auction, behind “Vignette 19,” 2014 ($18,4888,000, November 2019) and “Past Times,” 1997 ($21,114,500, May 2018). “Past Times” holds both the auction record for Marshall and is the most expensive work sold at auction by a living Black artist.

 


Lot 25A: EL ANATSUI (born 1944), “New Layout,” 2009 (found aluminum bottlecaps and copper wire, 88 5/8 x 119 3/8 x 5 7/8 inches / 225 x 303 x 15 cm). | Estimate $1,200,000-$1,800,000 SOLD for $1,950,000 fees included. RECORD

 

Ghanaian-born El Anatsui lives and works in Nigeria. Working with thousands of discarded liquor bottle caps he creates grand-scaled sculptural works that read as painted textiles. In 2019, “El Anatsui: Triumphant Scale,” his largest ever survey, co-curated by Okwui Enwezor (1963-2019) and Chika Okeke-Agulu, was presented at Haus der Kunst in Munich, Germany. “Individual little caps, they don’t have much to say, but when I put them together, then they have a voice,” the artist said in a video for the exhibition.

A stunning example of his opulent sculptural installations, “New Layout” sold for $1,950,000, achieving a new artist record. Anatsui’s previous record was set when “Recycled Dreams (Uniting the World with a Stitch)” (circa 2005), sold for $1,512,500 at Christie’s New York in November 2018. CT

 

ABOUT RESULTS Final sale prices include fees. Estimates and hammer prices do not include fees.

 

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

READ MORE about facts and analysis around gaining resale royalty rights from auction sales for artists and their estates

 
 

BOOKSHELF
“Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Fly In League With The Night” and “Jordan Casteel: Within Reach” feature the artists’s record-setting paintings. “Nina Chanel Abney: Royal Flush” accompanied the artist’s first solo museum exhibition. Both the show and the catalog feature “Untitled (XXXXXX),” Abney’s painting of two Black cops arresting a white man. “Racquel Reclining Wearing Purple Jumpsuit” by Mickalene Thomas is illustrated in “Mickalene Thomas: I Can’t See You Without Me.” Kerry James Marshall’s “Nat-Shango (Thunder)” is illustrated in “Kerry James Marshall.” Published by Harry N. Abrams in 2000, the volume includes excerpts from an extended conversation between Marshall and Arthur Jafa that occurred between June and July 1999. “Rashid Johnson: Anxious Men” was published on the occasion of the artist’s exhibition at the Drawing Center. “Henry Taylor: The Only Portrait I Ever Painted of My Momma Was Stolen,” the first major monograph of the artist, illustrates the painting “Haitian Cemetery.” A new volume, “El Anatsui: Art and Life” was published in January.

 

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