INTRODUCED AS A COMPLEMENT to Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening Auction, the New Now Evening Auction is distinguished by its currency. The auction “focuses on the art of our time, offering the most exciting, cutting-edge works on the market.” The second edition of the sale was an attention getter with works by women representing more than half the lots and Black artists accounting for nine of the 23 premium works offered.

On May 19, the hype bore out with a complete sell through and nine new records, many of them not just surpassing, but soaring past previous ones. Three of the records were set by Black female artists and they were blockbusters.


Lot 2: CHRISTINA QUARLES, “Night Fell Upon Us Up On Us,” 2019 (acrylic on canvas, 84 by 72 inches / 213.4 x 182.9 cm). | Estimate $600,000-$800,000. SOLD for ($3.7 million hammer price) $4,527,000 fees included. RECORD


The second lot in the sale was a recent painting by Los Angeles-based Christina Quarles. “Night Fell Upon Us Up On Us” (2019) skyrocketed far beyond the estimate ($600,000-$800,000) selling for more than $4.5 million. Quarles presents a colorful mass of entangled and intertwined figures grounded by fields of color—a moss green landscape and a sky rendered in midnight blue. The mesmerizing work exemplifies the artist’s practice which explores the complexities of identity through form, composition, and the politics of the body. The astounding, record-setting result garnered applause.

Quarles’s previous record was set on the occasion of Sotheby’s inaugural New Now Evening Auction last November when “Common Ground (Worlds Apart, Miles Away)” (2016) sold for $685,500.


Lot 3: SIMONE LEIGH, “Birmingham,” 2012 (India ink and epoxy on terracotta and porcelain, 15 ¼x 11 ½ x 11 ½ inches / 38.7 by 29.2 by 29.2 cm). | Estimate $150,000-$200,000. SOLD for ($1,750,000 hammer price) $2,167,500 fees included. RECORD


“Birmingham” (2012), a sculpture by Simone Leigh came up for auction next. At once striking and serene, the work is a terra cotta bust of a woman whose head is crowned with yellow porcelain rose buds that stand in stark contrast with her black skin. Leigh’s title references the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., a terrorist act by white supremacists that killed four little Black girls.

“Birmingham” also flew past the estimate ($150,000-$200,000). Selling for about 10 times expectations, the lot was sold for $2.167,500. The record price marked the first time Leigh’s work has garnered more than $1 million at auction. Her previous record was established in 2020, when “No Face (House)” (2020) sold at a Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated sale for $403,200, with the lot benefitting the High Line


Lot 4: JENNIFER PACKER, “Fire Next Time,” 2012 (oil on canvas, in two parts, 70 ⅛ x 156 inches / 178 x 396.2 cm). | Estimate $600,000-$800,000. SOLD for ($1.9 million hammer price) $2,349,000 fees included. RECORD


In “Fire Next Time” (2012), Jennifer Packer presents an abstracted interior with a figure slumped over a narrow counter that stretches the entire length of the 13-foot painting. From the viewer’s vantage point, it’s as though the scene is observed through an expansive window.

Rendered in an electric palette dominated by an intense orange, the compelling image is hard to decipher. The title of the painting is drawn from James Baldwin’s 1963 book, “The Fire Next Time.” The seminal volume is a manifesto of sorts, delivered in two essays. The first addresses racial injustice in the form of a letter to Baldwin’s nephew and the lengthier of the two considers the intersection of race and religion.

Only the second painting by Packer to come to auction, “Fire Next Time” (2012) far outpaced the estimate ($600,000-$800,000), selling for $2,349,000. When the artist’s work debuted at auction last year, an untitled painting made in 2010 (an interior scene with a pair of red folding chairs and an open window) sold at Sotheby’s for $340,200.


Lot 9: JULIE MEHRETU, “Emergent Algorithm (Manara Circle, Palestine),” 2012 (ink, graphite and acrylic on canvas, 59 ¼ x 88 ⅝ inches / 150.5 by 225.1 cm). | Estimate $3 million-$4 million. SOLD for ($4 million hammer price) $4,890,000 fees included


Further described by Sotheby’s, the New Now Auction “provides a masterpiece context for well-established, newly canonized artists as well as heightened visibility and a relevant art historical context for younger artists, establishing the masters of today and tomorrow.”

Highly regarded and still on the rise, the artists certainly fit the bill. Leigh is the first Black woman to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale with a solo exhibition. “Simone Leigh: Sovereignty” is currently on view in the American Pavilion. She also won the Venice Biennale’s coveted Golden Lion award for Best Participant in the International Exhibition. Bringing together more than 200 artists from 58 countries, “The Milk of Dreams” features “Brick House” (2019), a monumental bronze sculpture by Leigh.


Lot 10: LYNETTE YIADOM-BOAKYE, “11pm Sunday,” 2011 (oil on canvas, 79 by 51 ⅛ inches / 200.7 x 129.9 cm). | Estimate $1.2 million-$1.8 million. SOLD for ($1.4 million hammer price) $1,744,000 fees included


Represented by mega-gallery Hauser & Wirth, Quarles is also among the artists invited to participate in “The Milk of Dreams,” the Venice Biennale’s main exhibition curated Cecilia Alemani.

Packer, recently wrapped up “Jennifer Packer: Every Shut Eye Ain’t Sleep,” a solo show at MOCA Los Angeles and “Jennifer Packer: The Eye is Not Satisfied with Seeing,” presented at Serpentine Galleries in London (her first exhibition outside the United States) and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York “Fire Next Time” was exhibited at both venues of the traveling survey.


Lot 11: KERRY JAMES MARSHALL, “Beauty Examined,” 1993 (acrylic and collage on canvas, 84 5/8 x 99 1/4 inches / 214.9 x 252 cm). | Estimate $8 million-$12 million. SOLD for ($11.5 million hammer price) $13,538,000 fees included. TOP LOT
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The first 10 auction lots were by women artists, including Quarles, Leigh, Packer, Julie Mehretu, and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. Overall, 14 of the 23 lots in the sale were by women. “Beauty Examined” by Kerry James Marshall was the top lot, selling for $13,538,000. A painting by Stanley Whitney, a double portrait by Amoako Boafo, and a graffiti-painted desk by Virgil Abloh, were also featured in the sale.

The New Now Auction totaled $72.9 million with women artists ($28 million) and Black artists ($32.7 million) accounting for significant shares of the result. The latter representing about 45 percent of the sale’s value. CT


* All auction results include Buyer’s Premium fees, unless otherwise noted. Estimates do not include fees. Sources: Artprice and Sotheby’s


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Lot 12: VIRGIL ABLOH, “Unique “Efflorescence” Desk,” 2019. Executed by Galerie kreo, Paris (resin, spray-paint on concrete, 30 ⅛ x 86 ⅝ x 35 ½ inches / 76.5 x 220 x 90 cm). | Estimate $120,000-$180,000. SOLD for ($140,000 hammer price) $176,400 fees included (Lot reopened at end of auction sold for lower price $120,000 hammer
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Lot 16: STANLEY WHITNEY, Radical Openness,” 1992 (oil on canvas, 81 ½ x 103 ½ inches / 207 x 262.9 cm). | Estimate $600,000-$800,000. SOLD for ($ hammer price) $2,228,000 fees included


Lot 20: AMOAKO BOAFO, “Tonica and Adia,” 2019 (oil on canvas, 86 ¼ x 58 inches / 219 x 147.3 cm). | Estimate $400,000-$600,000. SOLD for $1,071,000 fees included


Following her Venice Biennale presentation, a major new monograph will accompany Simone Leigh’s forthcoming exhibition at ICA Boston in March 2023. “Christina Quarles” was published on the occasion of the artist’s recent solo exhibition organized by Grace Deveney at MCA Chicago. “Jennifer Packer: The Eye Is Not Satisfied with Seeing” documents the artist’s recent traveling exhibition that originated at Serpentine Galleries in London. “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry,” accompanied 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.


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