Few contemporary artists possess the ability to captivate the market like Barkley Hendricks, and all eyes will soon be on a major work by him that is set to hit the block this fall. Sotheby’s has secured a 1980 portrait by the painter titled Latin from Manhattan… the Bronx Actually, which will go up for sale in the house’s mid-season New York Contemporary Curated auction on October 2nd. The work is expected to fetch between $700,000 and $1 million.
Known for his stark images of real and imagined Black subjects, Hendricks, who died in 2017, is among the most prominent portraitists of the past century. He led the path for the next generations of artists after him that includes Kerry James Marshall, Kehinde Wiley, and Mickalene Thomas. Hendricks began a serious foray in portraiture in the mid-1960s, and he gained recognition after the 1971 Whitney Museum’s show “Contemporary Black Artists in America.”
According to Charlotte Van Dercook, a specialist in Sotheby’s contemporary art department and head of Contemporary Curated said the period in which Latin was made is crucial for several reasons. “The portraits are rare—he turned away from portraiture in the mid-’80s—so there’s a finite amount of them,” said Van Dercook. “He also transitions to do these handful of portraits on white, this kind of white background that provides the blank canvas for the figure to come out of.”
Hendricks’s market—which, according to Van Dercook, is subject to long holding periods among owners of his works, making them difficult acquire—has grown since the artist’s death. The artist’s current auction record of $3.7 million was realized by the sale of YOCKS (1975) in May 2019 during a Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening sale. His 1974 work Brenda P sold for $2.2 million at Sotheby’s in May 2018, doubling its pre-sale high estimate of $1 million.
According to Sotheby’s, Hendricks is said to have referred to the black-clad sitter in the new work coming up for auction— whose identity remains unknown—as “Silky.” Latin was first exhibited at a 2000 group showcase “The Magic City” at New York’s Brent Sikkema Gallery, co-organized by curator Trevor Schoonmaker, who later went on to organize the watershed 2008 Hendricks retrospective ‘The Birth of Cool’ at the Nasher Art Museum. From there the painting was acquired by its sole private owners, and is being sold by the heirs of the Michigan-based family collection of Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Miller.
Specialists at Sotheby’s are currently working to track down details around the sitter’s identity, and if “Silky” was a real person or one of Hendricks’s imagined figures. “The rarity factor is really what is so exciting here,” said Van Dercook, describing the painting’s sitter as an “empowered woman” with “an identity that potentially does not reflect one racial silo or categorization.”
Other examples of Hendricks’s paintings of women reside in prominent museum collections including Lawdy Mama (1969) at the Studio Museum in Harlem, October’s Gone Goodnight (1973) at the Harvard Art Museum and Miss T (1969) at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Sotheby’s is hopeful that the painting will draw competitive attention. Earlier this summer, Artnet News reported that the painter’s primary dealer and the gatekeeper of the artist’s estate, New York’s Jack Shainman Gallery, sold a Hendricks picture for $14 million to an unknown buyer. The private sale price far surpasses the artist’s public record.
“Certainly the private sale figures are encouraging that the painting will exceed its estimate,” said Van Dercook. The sale of Latin could come as another highlight in Hendricks’s posthumous legacy. “That’s when the auction excitement happens, when new landmarks prices, even if they’re not the top prices, can be achieved.”