13 Auction Records in Spring 2021 Sale of African American Art

Auction Brings $3.9 Million – Second-Highest Grossing Sale in Department Thirteen-Year History

Our spring offering of African American Art on April 22, 2021 was the second highest-grossing sale in the thirteen-year history of the department, with its highest number of participants to date. “I am thrilled to see the continued growth in our African American art auctions with a tremendous sale. 398 registered bidders (not counting those on other platforms) competed for 8 hours to bid on 220 lots. We set 13 artist records and saw high prices all around for many artists,” noted department director, Nigel Freeman.

Assemblage Artists

A strong showing of assemblage artists resonated with collectors with records being established for a number of artists working in the medium. Records included Howardena Pindell’s Oval Memory Series: (Rhinoceros) Heaven, a mixed-media piece in tempera, gouache, punched paper, nails, glitter and thread from 1980–81, at $100,000. The work was the first from the Oval Memory Series to come to auction, which Pindell created after a serious car accident that left her with acute memory loss in an effort to reconstruct her memories. Betye Saar’s Sojourn, 1995, earned a record for the artist at $87,500—the shadowbox employs the artist’s use of found objects and collage steeped in symbolic meaning.

Artists working in assemblage in the twenty-first century included Vanessa German with You Bring Out the Savage in Me #1, a 2013 mixed-media sculpture that stands at about 4 feet, brought $18,750, a record for the artist; and with her market debut, Bisa Butler’s 2007 quilted and appliquéd Nandi and Natalie (Friends) earned $75,000.

Related Reading: Artists Working in Mixed-Media & Assemblage

Modern Artists

Auction mainstays included Modernist painters such as Charles Alston, Beauford Delaney, Norman Lewis and Hale Woodruff. Woodruff led the sale with Primordial Landscape, a 1967 oil-on-canvas example of the artist’s post-war painting in which he describes landscape and natural phenomena within the idiom of Abstract Expressionism.

The work sold for $245,000. Alston’s 1956–60 urban abstraction City at Night, reached $185,000; works by Delaney included Untitled (African Figure), a 1968 oil-on-canvas which achieved $125,000, and Untitled (Tent Interior), a 1951 color pastel from the Ness Oleson Trust, which sold for $137,000; from Lewis’s final body of work in abstract was Untitled (Abstraction in Red and Blue), a circa-1973 oil-on-paper work that realized $81,250.

Related Reading: Bohemian Brothers: Beauford and Joseph Delaney
Artist Profile: Norman Lewis

Color Field Artists

Color field artists included Alma W. Thomas with two small-scale watercolors that drew significant interest from collectors: Untitled (Garden Composition), 1967, earned $81,259, and My Fall Garden, circa 1969, sold for $75,000. Sam Gilliam was available with Richer Scene, acrylic and polypropylene on canvas, 1998, at $185,000, and Toyopet I, an acrylic-on-canvas from Gilliam’s first period of experimentation in color field painting—completed in 1966 and then revisited in 1997—at $37,000.

Related Reading: From Abstract Expressionists to Color Field Painters—African-American Fine Art

Additional Highlights & Records

Further records included Joseph Delaney with Artist’s Studio Party, oil on canvas, 1940, at $81,250; and Winfred Rembert with Inside Jeff’s Café, dyes on tooled and carved leather, circa 1997, at $50,000. Additional highlights of note included works by Richmond Barthé, Romare Bearden, Ed Clark and Kerry James Marshall.

Related Reading: The Elegant Sculptures of Richmond Barthé

Consign with Swann.