African-American Artists Get a Lot of Attention; The Frick Talks to the Met About the Old Whitney; and Robert Indiana is Photo-shopped
One doesn’t have to be too cynical about the art world to draw the conclusion that Sotheby’s November sales are likely to see a substantial number of works by African-American artists after reading the fusillade of articles on the African-American art market published by Sotheby’s in collaboration with Artnet News.
Sotheby’s and Artnet caution that despite all of the talk about African-American art prices, the market remains skewed toward a few big names.
The popular perception that Wall Street has been rushing in to scoop up the work of African American artists […] A more detailed look reveals an unbalanced market that is much smaller in both value and volume than headlines suggest. Auction sales of work by Jean-Michel Basquiat account for $1.7 billion of the $2.2 billion total spend—a staggering 77 percent […] The market is top-heavy, even without Basquiat, consolidating around just five artists: Mark Bradford, Glenn Ligon, Kerry James Marshall, Julie Mehretu, and David Hammons, all of whose combined auction sales over the past decade account for $297 million—or 64 percent—of the $460.8 million total spend. Bradford is far and away in a league of his own: sales of his work account for 25 percent ($117.2 million) of the total. These top five aside, only two artists—Njideka Akunyili Crosby and Sam Gilliam—have generated auction sales of more than $10 million since 2008.
To be fair, this is pretty much the shape of the rest of the art market, too. A few names dominate all art markets. But it’s not just the market. Museums seem to be representing African-Americans more than they actually are. The project goes on to cite, “since 2008, just 2.4 percent of all acquisitions and gifts and 7.6 percent of all exhibitions at 30 prominent American museums have been of work by African American artists.”
Clearly there’s a great deal more that needs to happen. And museums seem only too happy to pursue the matter:
“If you deal with contemporary art, it is self-evident that many of the most interesting artists are African American,” says MoMA’s director Glenn Lowry. “And you realize that there were always important African American artists, even if they were not as visible to museums as they should have been. So then you need to address that as well.”
That demand has created a great deal of buying pressure for the works of African-American artists but Sotheby’s own advisory team feels the base of bidders is no sufficiently educated to understand that:
If a major work by a Modern legend such as Alma Thomas or Romare Bearden were to appear at auction, “I suspect it would sell for numbers that would stun most auction buyers—who right now probably couldn’t describe a work by either artist,” Schwartzman says.
Njideka Akunyili Crosby Wants Control
Njideka Akunyili Crosby gives the Wall Street Journal’s Kelly Crow the inside story of the development of her market. Crosby is unsettled by the dramatic rise of her auction prices though she doesn’t seem to recognize that her efforts to control her re-sale market is part of the reason that market continues to soar:
“My friends tell me I should just be happy my works are selling, and I am,” she said. The marketplace is now her tightrope. “It’s scary how vulnerable I still feel.”
Crosby has gone to great lengths, including having her lawyer ask former dealers to provide her with the names of collectors who bought her paintings. She even asked Jack Tilton, one her earliest supporters who acted as an informal dealer for her, to withhold the work he bought from her for $5000 from Christie’s.
“Can you back out of the deal? Is it too late?” she said she asked him. Auction houses aren’t obligated to tell anyone the names of its winning bidders. A contract had already been signed, he told her. He died on May 7, nearly two weeks before the sale. His wife said the sale was a way to get his affairs in order.
At the end of the story, we find out the issue is more about control for Crosby than runaway prices. She owes a great deal to Thelma Golden and the Studio Museum in Harlem for a residency in 2011. Crosby was only too happy to pay back that debt with an auction sale last season:
she donated one of her paintings to the Studio Museum of Harlem to resell in a benefit auction. Sotheby’s estimated her 2017 botanical piece, “Bush Babies,” would sell for up to $800,000 on May 18. It sold for $3.4 million, a record for the artist
The Journal Pumps and Dumps Crosby Story
The Wall Street Journals editors are getting a little over-excited about Kelly Crow’s excellent story. Although the piece quotes dealer Glenn Scott Wright of Victoria Miro Gallery saying, “he’s not worried about her longevity and told her this pump-and-dump initiation is ‘the nature of the beast now,’” there’s no evidence in the story of pumping or dumping.
The Frick Talks to the Met About the Old Whitney
Robin Pogrebin reports that the Frick and the Met are in negotiations over the former home of the Whitney Museum designed by Marcel Breuer:
By off loading the last three years of its eight-year lease in the Madison Avenue building, the Met could free itself of an $18 million annual financial burden and focus on improving its Fifth Avenue galleries for modern and contemporary art. And the Frick could satisfy a need for temporary space while its Gilded Age mansion undergoes renovation.
Robert Indiana Didn’t Love Brats
The New York Times reports that a Wisconsin sausage company owned by Shelly Stayer just installed a sculpture commissioned from Robert Indiana that spells out BRAT. But it turns out there may have been some photoshop involved in assuring the clients that the artist had approved the project. The Times reproduces two photographs side-by-side that show a crucial document might have been doctored. The buyers are not deterred:
“We have a signed sculpture by Robert Indiana and we absolutely love it,” Ms. Stayer said. “Nothing else matters.”