Published: February 18, 2020
NEW YORK CITY – The January 30 sale of African American art from the Johnson Publishing Company at Swann Galleries was an all-around success. The packed auction room saw all 87 lots find buyers, bringing $2.9 million – more than twice the high estimate for the auction – 29 new auction records were established in the sale that totaled $2,967,055, and 22 artists made their market debuts.
Nigel Freeman, director of Swann Galleries’s African American fine art department, remarked on the offering from the Ebony and Jet publishers: “It was an honor and a thrill to close this chapter of the Johnson Publishing Company’s illustrious history with a perfect sale of their works. The sale of the collection was the perfect storm of an auction – a prestigious name anchored with significant works by important artists, but with a wonderful new group of artists fresh to the secondary market, providing numerous opportunities for collectors.”
Leading the sale was the earliest work in the collection, Henry Ossawa Tanner’s nocturnal oil on canvas “Moonrise by Kasbah (Morocco),” 1912, at $365,000. The high price for Tanner (second-highest at auction) was followed up closely by the most contemporary artist from the offering, Carrie Mae Weems. Weems’s 1996-97 Chicago Public Art Program commission of seven framed panels with sandblasted text on glass garnered a new auction record for the important contemporary artist at $305,000.
Many of the works in the collection came from the 1970s. Highlights included Dindga McCannon’s 1970 oil on canvas “The Last Farewell.” McCannon was present in the auction room as her work made its market debut to a roar of applause at $161,000. Kenneth Victor Young’s vibrant 1971 oil on canvas abstraction in greens and yellows “Upper Egypt” crossed the block at $87,500. Fresh off its exhibition at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Francis A. Sprout’s 1971 acrylic on canvas “Azo” garnered $50,000, an auction debut for Sprout.
A number of market mainstays saw new auction records: Richard Mayhew with “Departure,” oil on canvas, 2006, at $233,000; Walter H. Williams’ “White Butterfly,” oil on canvas, 1969, at $125,000; and “Bazar Du Quai, Port Au Prince, Haiti,” oil on canvas, 1961, by Loïs Mailou Jones, at $75,000.
Elizabeth Catlett’s 1973 cast bronze sculpture “Sister” was won for $149,000. Additional highlights in sculpture featured Richmond Barthé, whose cast bronze bust “The Negro Looks Ahead,” 1944, brought $50,000.
“An auctioneer can wait for an entire career to have a sale like this one, but when it happens it is a transcendent feeling – a validation of all our strength together,” noted the house’s president Nicholas D. Lowry, who called the sale.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. The next sale of African American fine art will be conducted on April 2. For information, 212-254-4710 or www.swanngalleries.com.
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