Following up on our recent sale of African-American Fine Art, we sat down with Atina Sutton to discuss all things Swann, art and what’s current.
You’ve been at Swann for about five years, what is it you do in your work?
As Specialist & Department Manager, my work mainly consists of researching incoming works of art and new artists as well as writing for catalogues. Aside from that, I work with collectors, handling contracts and assisting our clients in any way I can.
How have things changes since you first started?
The market for this type of work has grown exceptionally since I have been with the department and I believe that growth will continue as curators, collectors and interested buyers research and invest in African-American artists that were historically ignored in the market. We’re currently seeing this lead to an investment in contemporary African-American artists as well.
What attracted you to work in the African-American Fine Art department?
When I first started at Swann I was the gallery assistant, but as I was starting my master’s program I was given the opportunity to work with Nigel in the African-American Fine Art department. My initial attraction to the position was the idea of focusing on material by artists who had often been marginalized and overlooked. Prior to that I had been living in France and traveling throughout Europe.
Do you have a favorite piece that has come through your department?
In the winter of 2015, we offered Barkley Hendricks’ Tuff Tony, 1978. This was far and away the most exciting sale for me. Hendricks is one of my favorite artists, and to work with a painting that is a representation of an everyday man, who could be from the same neighborhood that I am from, appearing so confident and cool, it overwhelmed me. It was rewarding to see that work do so well at auction–it tied the standing record for Hendricks.
What motivates you?
My motivation in my work is being part of something that is much bigger than myself. I like seeing work by African-American artists reaching the same heights and auction prices as their contemporaries. Interacting with clients and discussing their experiences and relationships with some of these artists also drives me. It gives me the inclination that yes, this is what I want to be doing.
There have been many major key players that have inspired me, but the first person that comes to mind is Thelma Golden. Her achievements for African-American artists, as well as being a woman of color, pushes me to keep going further and working harder.
You’re currently in the final stages of your master’s degree, Congrats! Can you tell us a little bit about your thesis?
My thesis is on Emma Amos and focuses on political movements in the 1960s and 70s that have influenced her work. I am interested in her participation with groups such as Spiral–a New York-based African-American artists’ collective from 1963-65–where she was the only woman in the group at the time of its initiation. She also exhibited her work with the Guerrilla Girls. It has been interesting to learn about her ideas on feminism during a time that was not always inclusive of women of color.
Other artists that I admire include John Edmonds and Deana Lawson. Edmonds series on do-rags is portrayed very elegantly, playing off this notion of the heavy and often bad connotations that are associated with black men wearing the garment. In the series, he celebrates black masculinity by photographing men wearing do-rags in soft lighting that creates an almost angelic like subject.