On Thursday, Christie’s announced it will lend its online platform for a new exhibition devoted exclusively to Black artists. Lead by 24-year-old New York-based curator and art adviser, Destinee Ross-Sutton (@desti.knee) the private selling show titled SAY IT LOUD (I’m Black and I’m Proud) will run from July 31–August 17. Bringing more than 40 works works by 22 emerging and mid-career Black artists to buyers at fixed prices with a total value of $400,000.
Celine Cunha, Post-War and Contemporary Art Specialist serves as Co-Chairman of the Corporate Social Responsibility Diversity & Inclusion Initiatives and led the company’s first collaboration with Ross-Sutton, which also includes a panel series with the Harlem Arts Alliance. The programming, according to a press release, provides “a necessary platform for the Black Art community’s voices to be amplified and empowered.”
Ross-Sutton is among the youngest independent curators to organize a series of exhibitions at prominent international institutions. Her ties to collectors building portfolios of Black artists span the U.S., Europe and Asia. Regardless of her age, Ross-Sutton is unique among conventional art advisers in that she is a recurring figure in the works of artists like Kehinde Wiley and Ghanian-born painter, Amoafo Boako, among others. In her latest endeavor, she organized BLACK VOICES/BLACK MICROCOSMS at Sweden’s CHFILL featuring 30 leading emerging Black contemporary artists, including Rashaad Newsome, David Shrobe, Boafo, Quaicoe, and others.
For Ross-Sutton, choosing the pieces to include came down to those strikingly expressive— the selection process involved “seeing who is either beginning to express their voices—showing the human condition, within being Black, in such profound ways,” said the adviser. The group of works were each produced within the last three years and come to the market as new examples of contemporary Black art practices spanning international contexts. One of the artists featured is self-taught Nigerian-born painter, Eniwaye Oluwaseyi, who initially introduced Ross-Sutton to the Christie’s project. His 2020 painting, The Breakfast featuring two starkly-rendered subjects seated opposite each other in a dining room scene is among the highest valued works with a price of $13,000.
A 2017 piece by New York-based multi-media artist, Bard-educated Azikiwe Mohammed titled Unarmed is also among the other high value offerings. The piece, which features metallic nameplates laid against a red-backed jewelry board lists names of Black individuals killed by police in 2016. An edition of the work was last shown at Spring Break Art Show in his solo installation in 2016 at a price of $8,200, and now comes to the Christie’s online sale at a price of $11,000. “This work definitely stood out to me,” said Ross-Sutton, adding that what it provides to the viewer is “a look at, in such as simple but impactful way, how the system failed us.”
Known for his installations made of vintage materials built as imagined spaces of respite for Black Americans, Azikiwe Mohammed’s recent accomplishments include a 2019 solo exhibition at the SCAD museum and a residency at Mana Contemporary. Mohammed is also the current subject of a solo exhibition at Brooklyn’s Elijah Wheat Showroom. Nigerian artist, Collins Obijiaku, another newcomer featured in the April 2020 CHFILL showcase has an untitled ochre-ground portrait of a young man in the show on offer at a price of $6,500.
Two photographs by acclaimed Houston-based filmmaker, Cary Fagan— who has shot projects for Solange Knowles, including her 2019 Marfa visual album “When I Get Home”, an album cover for ASAP Rocky, and whose images appeared in Antwaun Sargent’s 2019 exhibition, “The New Black Vanguard” — are included in the show. Blood Shed and Dinner Table executed in January 2020 during Fagan’s residency in Italy are available at a price up to $1,200. Elsewhere in the selling exhibition is Los-Angeles based painter, Yoyo Lander’s monumental three figure triptych HAVE TEARS, priced at $35,000. The artist has held a series of solo shows, most recently at Los Angeles-based arts collective, Band of Vices.
Ross-Sutton hopes to sell works to collections with long-term promise. And so far, none of the fifteen Amoako Boafo works she has placed in private collections have yet surfaced at auction. To protect artist markets from speculative buyers, she cites dealing works to judicious collectors and longer period resale terms in sales contracts, including the incorporation of a ‘Projansky Agreement’ (a set of terms meant to ensure artist re-sale rights) as key strategies.
The initiative, Sutton argues, is a step in the right direction for the auction behemoth. Christie’s is relinquishing any direct financial interest in the project, with all proceeds going to the artists. What the firm gains is an introduction to new clients and crucial collectors data. As online channels are drawing in buyers at lower price points, auction houses are looking for ways to connect with an emerging class of new buyers. Those who register and transact in the online sale, a portion of whom Ross-Sutton will be liaising with directly, are potential long-term clients for the auction house.
Ross-Sutton, who was approached by Christie’s about one month ago for the project was initially reticent given the current climate around corporate programming in response to the Black Lives Matter protest movement. Yet the opportunity to provide a global platform to young talent proved invaluable to the advisor. “Christie’s tells us what the value of work is. It’s a massive platform,” said Ross-Sutton, noting that among her primary concerns is bringing exposure to the stable of artists she manages.
“It’s a bit beyond promoting the artists that I work with” said Ross-Sutton looking at the big picture. “They’re willing to offer their works to say this is just the beginning, the first of a series of collaborations along this effort to really make actual change.”
Celine Cunha confirmed this is indeed a part of the sale’s strategy. “One of the goals of this exhibition is to cultivate new and emerging buyers” said Cunha. “Our strategy is to cater to emerging clients and to grow our programs for collectors of color. We also want to ensure the artists in Say It Loud are placed in institutions and important existing collections.”
Additional artists included in the sale under Ross-Sutton’s management include Juwon Aderemi, Joshua Michael Adokuru, Isshaq Ismail, Jerome Lagarrigue, Nelson Makamo, Khari Turner and Wonder Buhle.