Swann Galleries in New York is bringing a set of important works to its African American art sale this season. Rescheduled from the original date in March, the live auction on June 4 will offer 187 lots from the past two centuries. All bidding will be done remotely.
Under the direction of specialist Nigel Freeman, Swann has become a market leader of African American Art, growing the auction in sales and volume each year as demand for historical and contemporary Black American artists has increased. Among the significant works in the sale are Jacob Lawrence’s 1942 gouache on paper, Cutting Logs #51, valued at $250,000–$350,000. The work comes from an important series depicting life in the rural South, of which there are only six. One, Firewood #55, is in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
A 1960 portrait, Women, Ghana, by John Biggers, a prominent muralist and painter who found acclaim during the Harlem Renaissance, is being offered with an estimate of $120,000–$180,000.
The demand for abstract work still dominates these sales, providing a key driver of each year’s rising results. Works by artists such as Sam Gilliam and Norman Lewis, a prominent figure in the New York School, have seen competitive bidding. Sam Gilliam’s 1998 collage on canvas, Horses Upside Down, last came to auction in February 2009 and is expected to reach $80,000–$120,000. Norman Lewis’s oil and ink on paper featuring the artist’s signature abstract depiction of urban life carries an estimate of $40,000–$60,000.
The wide-ranging sale includes standout contemporary art: early works by David Hammons will also be among the auction highlights. A 1965 collage featuring a pair of cuffed wrists against a gold background, carrying an estimate of $120,000–$180,000, comes from the collection of Hammons’s anonymous 1964 Los Angeles City College roommate. An edition from his 1986 series,The Man Nobody Killed, a version of which is in the Museum of Modern Art’s collection, is estimated at $10,000–$15,000. The work depicts a screen printed portrait of slain graffiti artist, 25-year-old Michael Stewart, killed by New York City police in 1983, whose death shook the downtown cultural scene. The event and the following trial were also the inspiration for works by his peers Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Andy Warhol.
Also among the top lots are several sculptures, including a 1975 work depicting a female figure by Elizabeth Catlett that the consignor acquired directly from the artist. The work is valued at $100,000 to $150,000. Another piece on offer is American sculptor Richmond Barthé’s 1929 Boy with a Broom, an extremely rare plaster sculpture from early in the artist’s career in Harlem; it was included in the artist’s seminal 1930 solo show at the Woman’s City Club of Chicago. The piece is expected to bring $60,000–$90,000.
A 1990 acrylic and fabric collage titled A Well Balanced Meal carries an estimate of $30,000–$40,000; it’s the work of recently deceased contemporary artist Emma Amos, who saw belated acclaim following Tate Modern’s seminal 2017 show “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power.”
A set of photographs by preeminent Harlem Renaissance–era photographer James Van Der Zee features portraits of Black Americans, and each is valued between $3,000 and $5,000.