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.
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