Swann beats estimates in October African-American Art sale; Records set for Elizabeth Catlett, Kenneth Victor Young, Allan Rohan Crite, Sargent Johnson, and William H. Johnson
This commentary by Marion Maneker is available to AMMpro subscribers. (The first month of AMMpro is free and subscribers are welcome to sign up for the first month and cancel before they are billed.)
Swann African-American Art = $3.68m
The rising market for African-American artists which has become so prominent in recent years at the major auction houses and provided so much of the excitement in London’s sales during Frieze week did start there. It was incubated and grown at Swann Galleries for a decade under the leadership of Nigel Freeman.
Today, Swann held its semi-annual sale focusing more on historical African-American artists than providing a platform for interested buyers to skip the gallery waiting list for artists in high demand like Tschabalala Self.
The top lot was a record price paid for Elizabeth Catlett’s Seated Woman which made $389k. Other records were set for Kenneth Victor Young at $233k; Allan Rohan Crite at $185k; Sargent Johnson at $125k; and William H. Johnson whose print sold for $125k.
Freeman commented on the sale that, “Elizabeth Catlett was especially deserving of a new record, and Seated Woman was the perfect work to do it, embodying all the wonderful qualities found in her wood sculpture. Another trend was the rising popularity and value of the paintings of Hughie Lee-Smith and Walter Williams—two significant mid-century painters Swann has specialized in.”
The market was helped along by institutions which were the buyers of the two top lots by Catlett and Henry Ossawa Tanner. This interest helped Swann consolidate its sales volume for 2019 at a position three-quarters of a million dollars below the previous year. As we’ll detail further for AMMpro subscribers that fall in sales volume year-over-year masks a specific drop that was more about sales composition than it was a reflection of either a decay in market interest—which would seem silly given the prevalence of African-American artists across the Contemporary art market—or the top artists’ markets being cherry picked by the larger auction houses.
What the chart at the top of this newsletter shows is the African-American art market consolidating around solid sales rather than pulling back in a meaningful way. Swann hit the high end of their pre-sale estimate range which shows overall market strength.
As the chart shows, the African-American art market at Swann has had years like 2010 and 2016 where there was a significant pullback. If this sale was the harbinger of another market retrenchment, it signaled a very slight one indeed. Again, one has to factor in the sales of 20th Century African-American artists at other houses to determine whether the overall market has continued to grow.
The Kenneth Victor Young sale was of particular importance given the recent booth devoted to his work by Edward Tyler Nahem’s gallery at TEFAF this Spring in New York and the recent sales at Christie’s in November of 2018 when one example sold for $100k and later in February of this year when another sold for the same price. Both works had been acquired directly from the artist.
Swann’s Nigel Freeman was paying attention:
Auction results from other houses in 2018 had indicated his market was changing. So we jumped at the opportunity to bring this large format painting to the auction. With the tremendous recent increase in interest in 1970s color field painters from Washington, DC, led by Sam Gilliam, it was a wonderful time to bring this work to the attention of our international audience of collectors and curators.
AFRICAN-AMERICAN FINE ART
Sale 2518; October 8, 2019
Sale total: $3,679,672 (Hammer: $2,967,450)
Estimates for sale as a whole: $2,139,800-$3,155,200
We offered 189 lots; 164 sold (87% sell-through rate by lot)
All prices include Buyer’s Premium.
Top lots Prices with buyer’s premium
63 Elizabeth Catlett, Seated Woman, carved mahogany, 1962 $389,000
7 Henry Ossawa Tanner, At the Gates, oil on panel, c. 1926-27 $341,000
95 Kenneth Victor Young, Untitled, acrylic on canvas, 1972 $233,000
85 Romare Bearden, Girl in a Garden, collage, 1972 $197,000
10 Allan Rohan Crite, Play at Dark, oil on canvas, 1935 $185,000
175 Sam Gilliam, Richer Scene, acrylic on canvas, 1998 $161,000
9 Sargent Johnson, Head of a Negro Boy, terra cotta, c. 1934 $125,000
22 William H. Johnson, Jitterbugs II, print, c. 1941-42 $125,000
36 Norman Lewis, Untitled, oil & ink, 1960 $106,250
58 Hale Woodruff, Landscape No. 2, oil on canvas, c.1966 $87,500
32 Walter Williams, Sunflower Girl, oil on canvas, c. 1951-52 $81,250
33 Hughie Lee-Smith, Landscape with Figure, oil on board, 1952 $75,000
178 McArthur Binion, Macon: Blue, crayon on plywood, 2003 $68,750
131 Hughie Lee-Smith, Prelude, oil on canvas, 1986 $55,000
88 Noah Purifoy, Untitled (Zulu series), mixed media, c. 1970-71 $47,500
152 Robert Colescott, The Artist and the Model, acrylic/pencil, 1994 $47,500
151 Hughie Lee-Smith, Les Poseurs, watercolor, 1994 $43,750
103 Barkley L. Hendricks, Magnolia #2, watercolor, 1975 $37,500
172 Sam Gilliam, Snow Lane #1, collage, 1996 $37,500
177 Ed Clark, Untitled, acrylic on canvas, c. 2000 $36,400