THREE 1970s PAINTINGS by Ernie Barnes (1938-2009) sold for more than $100,000 each on Oct. 1, marking the first time a work by Barnes sold for more than six figures at auction. Two of the paintings sold for nearly $300,000 each. The results were more than three times the artist’s previous record and set a new benchmark for Barnes. The paintings were featured in Christie’s Post-War to Present sale in New York.

“The Disco” (1976), a crowded club scene with Black and white patrons partying on the dance floor and hanging out around cocktail tables, appears on the cover of the self-titled 1978 album of the soul/R&B vocal group Faith, Hope and Charity. Estimated to sell for $70,000-$100,000, the original painting soared to $287,000, establishing a new auction record for Barnes.

Lot 37: ERNIE BARNES (1938-2009), “The Disco,” 1978 (acrylic on canvas, 29 7/8 x 39 3/4 inches / 75.9 x 101 cm). | Estimate $70,000-$100,000. Sold for $287,500 fees included. RECORD


His previous record didn’t stand for long. It was set in September at Dallas Auction Gallery (DAG), where five paintings by Barnes were sold. “Untitled (Pool Hall)” reached $81,250 setting a new record for the artist (surpassing his previous high mark of $75,000 achieved in May at Hindman in Chicago).

Based in Los Angeles for most of his artistic career, Barnes was an NFL football player who retired from the sport and committed himself full time to his artistic practice. His subjects were often athletes. He referenced music and paid homage to Black women. He also favored depicting the quotidian of African American life, scenes and characters such as “The Pulpiteer” that reflected his memories of the South, where he grew up in Durham, N.C.

“The Pulpiteer” (1972) by Barnes, a lively portrait of a preacher with elongated arms making an exaggerated gesture up toward the heavens, sold for $275,000 at Christie’s. Depicting five basketball players who appear to be in anguish over a game, “Five in Red” (1970) sold for $150,000.

The trio of Barnes paintings, along with “Black Man” (1965), a drawing by Charles White (1918-1979) that sold for nearly $600,000, are from the collection of Danny and Donna Arnold (1936-2021). An Emmy Award-winning writer/producer, Danny Arnold (1925-1995) is best known for creating the television shows “Bewitched” and “Barney Miller,” and producing “That Girl.” Donna Arnold died in March. She was an actress who got her start as a child star on “Our Gang”/”The Little Rascals.” The Hollywood couple knew both White and Barnes and acquired the works directly from the artists.


Lot 40: ERNIE BARNES (1938-2009), “The Pulpiteer,” 1972 (oil on canvas, 29 7/8 x 40 inches / 75.9 x 101.6 cm). | Estimate $60,000-$80,000. Sold for $275,000 fees included


THE POST-WAR TO PRESENT SALE featured 175 lots. The auction totaled $34,409,820, which Christie’s said was the highest result it had seen for a Post-War to Present sale. In another first, the auction house accepted bids in the cryptocurrency Ether for a lot of curio cards and NFTs.

Six new auction records were established by Barnes and Wonder Buhle Mbambo, among other artists. Mbambo is a rising South African artist. In “The Hearts” (2021), graphic patterns add dimension to the limited-palette work. The painting captures an aerial view of a trio of youth who’ve formed a circle and put their hands in the center, one on top of the other, in a gesture of solidarity. The painting was produced, acquired directly from the artist, and resold in the same year.

“The Hearts” sold for $175,000, more than three times the estimate ($30,000-$50,000) and a new record for Mbambo. The result is also nearly three times the artist’s previous record of $61,498 (£44,100), reached when “To Find Me” (2019) sold at Phillips London in April.

“The Bargaining” (1961) by Bob Thompson (1937-1966) was the first lot in the sale. Opening the auction on a promising note, the painting far exceeded expectations selling for $212,500, more than four times the high estimate ($30,000-$50,000). “Bob Thompson: This House Is Mine” is currently on view in at the Colby College Museum of Art in Waterville, Maine. The traveling survey is the first museum exhibition dedicated to Thompson’s brief but prolific career in more than 20 years.


Lot 1: BOB THOMPSON (1936-1966), “The Bargaining,” 1961 (oil on panel, 23 1/2 x 20 inches / 60 x 50.8 cm). | Estimate $30,000-$50,000. Sold for $212,500 fees included


THERE WERE SEVERAL OTHER HIGHLIGHTS by Black artists. Works by Julie Mehretu, Mickalene Thomas, and Sonia Gomes far exceeded their estimates. A work from Titus Kaphar‘s Jerome series and “Glenn,” an abstract portrait by Rashid Johnson, were featured. Artists Nina Chanel Abney, Aboudia, Jonathan Lyndon Chase, Jammie Holmes, Jayson Musson, Chris Ofili, Walter Price, and Jack Whitten, were also represented in the sale.

The auction concluded with “White Male for Sale” (2021), an NFT by Dread Scott, who says he makes “revolutionary art to propel history forward.” In 2019, Scott staged a slave rebellion reenactment in Louisiana that concluded in New Orleans. “Dread Scott: We’re Going to End Slavery. Join Us,” his first gallery show in two decades, is currently on view at Cristin Tierny Gallery in New York, through Dec. 18.

The NFT is a 1 minute and 10 second video loop that shows a typical middle-aged, middle-class white man standing on an auction block. It sold for $32,500. Scott said the definition of an NFT (non-fungible token), inspired the provocative work.

“The term fungible resonated differently for me due to its use by scholars of the history of slavery,” the artist said. “People are inherently non-fungible. But as slavery became an integral part of developing capitalism, enslavers sought to make people fungible.” CT


* PRICING INFO All sold prices include premium fees


FIND MORE On Oct. 6, Sotheby’s presented the fall edition of Two Centuries: American Art, an online auction. Although “Scrum” (1980), a rugby football scene by Ernie Barnes, served as the promotional image for the sale, the painting went unsold. “Dancer,” a second lot by Barnes, was withdrawn.


FIND MORE New artist resale rights contract in the US has a charitable twist, from The Art Newspaper


Lot 10: WONDER BUHLE MBAMBO (B. 1989), “The Hearts,” 2021 (acrylic on canvas, 46 1/8 x 58 1/8 inches / 117.2 x 147.32 cm). | Estimate $30,000-$50,000. Sold for $175,000 fees included. RECORD


Lot 38: ERNIE BARNES (1938-2009), “Five In Red,” 1970 (acrylic on canvas, 35 7/8 x 32 1/8 inches / 91.1 x 81.6 cm). | Estimate 50,000-70,000. Sold for $150,000 fees included


Lot 39: CHARLES WHITE (1918-1979), “Black Man,” 1965 (charcoal and crayon on illustration board, image: 19 x 34 inches / 48.3 x 86.4 cm; board: 24 ¼ x 38 ½ inches / 61.6 x 97.8 cm). | Estimate $400,000-$600,000. Sold for $587,500 fees included


Lot 6: JAMMIE HOLMES (B. 1984), “Colored Only,” 2018 (acrylic and pastel on canvas, 48 x 48 inches / 121.9 x 121.9 cm). | Estimate $60,000-80,000. Sold for $93,750 fees included


Lot 7: TITUS KAPHAR (B.1976), “Jerome XVII,” 2014 (oil, gold leaf and tar on panel, 10 x 7 x 1 inches / 25.4 x 17.8 x 2.5 cm). | Estimate $40,000-$60,000. Sold for $56,250 fees included


Lot 32: SONIA GOMES (B. 1948), Untitled, from Patuá series, 2004 (fabric and laces with stitching and bindings on wire, 19 ½ x 24 ¾ x 9 1/2 inches / 49.5 x 62.9 x 24.1 cm). | Estimate $15,000-$20,000. Sold for $75,000 fees included


Lot 50: MICKALENE THOMAS (B. 1971), “Portrait of Aaliyah,” 2018 (rhinestones, oil stick, acrylic, and oil paint on wood panel, 48 1/8 x 60 x 2 inches / 122.2 x 152.4 x 5.1 cm.). | Estimate $200,000-$300,000. Sold for $625,000 fees included


Lot 73: RASHID JOHNSON (B. 1977), “Glenn,” 2013 (branded red oak flooring, black soap and wax / 84 ¾ x 60 1/2 inches / 215.3 x 153.7 cm.). | Estimate $100,000-$150,000. Sold for $300,000 fees included


Lot 81: JULIE MEHRETU (B. 1970), Untitled, 2006 (graphite, watercolor and ink on paper, 26 x 40 inches / 66 x 101.6 cm). | Estimate $120,000-$180,000. Sold for $362,500 fees included


Lot 191: JAYSON MUSSON (B. 1977), “Nutmeg,” 2012 (mercerized cotton stretched on linen, 96 x 74 inches / 243.8 x 188 cm). | Estimate $87,500. Sold for $30,000-$50,000 fees included


“From Pads to Palette” (1995) is an autobiographical volume by Ernie Barnes. Alongside his football sketches and paintings, the artist recounts his childhood in Durham, N.C., experiences during his football career, and the start of his art career with his first solo exhibition at Grand Central Art Galleries in New York. A children’s book chronicling the artist’s life, “Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery,” was published in 2018, with illustrations by Bryan Collier. Another book for children, “Pigskins to Paintbrushes: The Story of Football-Playing Artist Ernie Barnes,” written and illustrated by Don Tate, was published a few months ago. Titled “Mickalene Thomas,” the artist’s first comprehensive monograph is forthcoming in November with contributions by Kellie Jones and Roxane Gay. “Julie Mehretu” accompanies the artist’s mid-career retrospective, which is currently on view at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, through March 6, 2022. “Charles White: A Retrospective” accompanied the recent traveling exhibition.


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