Quietly and without much fanfare, the market for works of art by Sam Gilliam has been on fire. In the last month, three of his top 5 prices have been achieved, including a record set at $684,500 at Sotheby’s September 27th mid-season sale for Rays from 1971 which was estimated at $100-150k. Also in September, a DC auction house offered Fan Fire IV from 1970 with an estimate of 100-150k. The buyer took it home for $332,400. Earlier this month, Rubiyat from 1973 was offered at Swann’s with a more modest $60-90k estimate. It only took $191,000 to bring the work home that day.
The art market functions in mysterious ways but sales often increase in front of shows that are expected to have a strong effect on the artist’s prominence. It just so happens that Mnuchin Gallery’s Sukanya Rajaratnam has been putting together a show that opens in early November.
Here are some details from the press release:
Mnuchin Gallery is proud to announce an exhibition of works by Sam Gilliam. The exhibition will present examples of the artist’s two seminal series, the Beveled-edge and Drape paintings, spanning from 1967 to 1973. This will be the artist’s first solo exhibition in New York in nearly twenty-five years, and coincides with his installation at the Central Pavilion of the 57th Venice Biennale and precedes an exhibition of his work from the same vintage at the Kunstmuseum Basel next June. On view from November 2 through December 16, 2017, it will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with contributions from Adrienne Edwards, Jonathan Binstock and Tatem Webb Read.
Gilliam established himself at the forefront of American abstraction while working in Washington, D.C. in the 1960s, when his experiments with paint application and his radical transformation of the canvas support profoundly expanded the possibilities for the future of abstract painting. Working alongside Color Field painters such as Kenneth Noland and Thomas Downing, Gilliam elaborated upon Color Field processes and aesthetics while subverting Greenbergian notions of the “integrity of the picture plane,” and disrupting the boundaries between the visual world of painting and the tangible world outside it. At a time during the Civil Rights movement when African American artists were expected by many to create figurative work explicitly addressing racial subject matter, Gilliam persisted in pursuing the development of a new formal language that celebrated the cultivation and expression of the individual voice and the power of non-objective art to transcend cultural and political boundaries.