Auction Results: Sotheby’s Evening Sale Featured Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Kerry James Marshall, and Jordan Casteel, Acclaimed Painters Who Focus on the Figure
WORKS BY THREE BLACK ARTISTS, who are among the most critically recognized painters focused on figuration and Black subjects, were featured in Sotheby’s latest Contemporary Art Evening Auction, held on Oct. 28 in New York. The sale included 41 lots showcasing premium artworks by highly regarded artists. “Barbershop” by Jordan Casteel opened the auction. Lynette Yiadom-Boakye‘s “Figure of Eight” was the third lot. “Untitled (Blot)” by Kerry James Marshall was offered near the end of the sale.
All three of the paintings were produced in 2015. None of the works broke records at the auction or even exceeded estimates. However, more importantly, each represents a significant moment or aspect of the artist’s practice.
Lot 1: JORDAN CASTEEL (born 1989), “Barbershop,” 2015 (oil on canvas, 72 x 54 inches / 182.9 x 137.2 cm). | Estimate $400,000-$600,000. Sold for $564,500 fees included
Casteel’s “Barbershop” painting was featured in a solo exhibition of eight paintings at Sargent’s Daughters in New York. The 2015 presentation marked a transition for the artist. Previously, she explored the complex lives and experiences of Black men by focusing on single subjects in her work.
Titled “Brothers,” the Sargent’s Daughters show included groups of men for the first time—compositions with two and three subjects, showing connections among fathers, sons, and brothers. In addition, Casteel was close to her subjects, including her twin brother, her nephew, and close friends.
In “Barbershop,” the artist sets her scene in a cherished public space. Black men for generations have considered the barbershop a safe and intimate space where they are comfortable being their authentic selves, talking about their families, friends, and personal problems, and discussing social issues and politics.
New York-based Casteel made “Barbershop” during a residency at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s “Process Space” on Governor’s Island. After that experience, she was an artist-in-residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem (2015-16). The neighborhood gave her a new subject base and new stories to share. The high-profile residency fueled interest in her practice.
“Barbershop” sold for $564,500, in line with the estimate ($400,000-$600,000). The result is the second-highest price a work by Casteel has achieved at auction. Her artist record was set earlier this year, when “Mom” (2013), a portrait of her mother, Lauren Young Casteel, reached $666,734 at Christie’s. The record-setting painting was also the first lot, opening the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale in London on Feb. 12.
In an interview with Allie Biswas for Studio International about the paintings in her “Brothers” exhibition, Casteel spoke about her influences, artists who span generations, Yiadom-Boakye among them.
“Influence for me comes from many places. Being engaged with current visual culture means seeing the world around me with my eyes wide open. As a child, I grew up with knowledge of Hale Woodruff, Romare Bearden, William H. Johnson, Jacob Lawrence and Faith Ringgold,” Casteel said.
“It wasn’t until much later in life that people such as Matisse and Alice Neel entered my spectrum of knowledge. Lynette Yiadom-Boakye is another painter whose work I greatly admire for her lovely attention to paint, and sensitivity to black bodies. Lately, I have done a lot of reading. I just finished ‘Between the World and Me’ by Ta-Nehisi Coates, which was such a beautiful connector for me with this body of work.”
“Lynette Yiadom-Boakye is another painter whose work I greatly admire for her lovely attention to paint, and sensitivity to black bodies.”
— Jordan Casteel
BOTH CASTEEL AND YIADOM-BOAKYE currently have major shows at prominent institutions that have been delayed, interrupted, and rescheduled due to museum closures in the wake of COVID-19.
“Jordan Casteel: Within Reach” at the New Museum features nearly 40 paintings spanning the artist’s career, from 2013 to present. The exhibition is Casteel’s first solo museum show in New York and was slated to be on view Feb. 19–May 24, 2020. Then a few weeks after it the exhibition opened, the museum was forced to close temporarily in March on account of the pandemic.
The New Museum remained closed past the original closing date for the exhibition. After being shuttered for six months, the New Museum reopened on Sept. 15 and “Within Reach” has been extended to Jan. 3, 2021.
Lot 3: LYNETTE YIADOM-BOAKYE (born 1977), “Figure of Eight,” 2015 (oil on canvas, 78 ¾ x 51 ¼ inches / 200 x 130 cm). | Estimate $600,000-$800,000. Sold for $786,500 fees included
“Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Fly in League With the Night” at Tate Britain in London is the artist’s first major survey. Featuring more than 80 works produced from 2003 to the present, the exhibition was originally scheduled for May 19-Aug. 31, 2020. After the museum closed temporarily in mid-March, the entire run of the show came and went before the museum reopened in September.
Dedicated to presenting Boakye’s exhibition, Tate reset the opening date for Nov. 18, this Wednesday. Then with two weeks to go, Tate closed its doors again. With cases of COVID-19 spiking anew, London museums closed beginning Nov. 5 and are expected to remain shuttered for at least a month.
Anticipation. London-based Boakye’s powerful work is certainly well worth the wait. Her fictional subjects are timeless, possessing great ambiguity and mystery. The paintings are rendered with bold strokes in deep-toned, saturated palettes.
“Figure of Eight” is among many works the artist has made of swimmers and dancers. The figures nearly always avoid the gaze of the viewer.
The painting sold for $786,500 against an estimate of $600,000-$800,000. It’s the third-highest price a work by the British artist has reached at auction, following “Leave a Brick Under the Maple” (2015), which sold last year at Phillips London for 795,000 British Pounds (more than $1 million), and “The Hours Behind You” (2011), which soared to more than $1.5 million, setting an artist record at Sotheby’s New York in 2017.
The artist discussed the origin of her subjects with curators Natalie Bell and Massimiliano Gioni. The conversation was published in the exhibition catalog that accompanied “Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Under-Song for a Cipher” at the New Museum in 2016.
“The figures are always composite. The term imaginary is perhaps a little misleading. It suggests I pull everything out of the air. I don’t. By composite I mean that they’re a combination of different sources: scrapbooks, drawings, photographs, etc.,” Yiadom-Boakye said.
“In many ways, I think less about the figures than I do about how they are painted. I ceased to see the paintings as portraits a long time ago. Thus, I don’t really see them as “characters” in the individual sense, as personalities or people with specific traits. I always think of them as somehow beyond these things. They exist entirely in paint.”
“The figures are always composite. The term imaginary is perhaps a little misleading. It suggests I pull everything out of the air. I don’t. By composite I mean that they’re a combination of different sources: scrapbooks, drawings, photographs, etc.” — Lynette Yiadom-Boakye
Lot 41: KERRY JAMES MARSHALL (born 1955), “Untitled (Blot),” 2015 (acrylic on PVC panel, 84 x 120 inches / 213.4 x 304.8 cm). | Estimate $2.5 million-$2.5 million. Sold for $2,970,000 fees included
MARSHALL HOLDS THE RECORD for the most expensive work of art sold at auction by a living Black artist. In May 2018 at Sotheby’s New York, “Past Times” (1997) sold for $21.1 million. (Sean Combs was revealed to be the buyer. Only the late artist Jean-Michel Basquiat has garnered higher prices.) At the latest auction, Marshall’s “Untitled (Blot)” was estimated at $2.5 million-$3.5 million and sold for $2,970,000.
The Chicago-based artist, who is known for depicting Black figures with black paint, has on occasion made graphic, text-based works and explored abstraction. “Untitled (Blot)” was on view at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015, in “All the World’s Futures,” the Central Pavilion exhibition curated by Okwui Enwezor. The painting is also illustrated in the exhibition catalog for “Look See,” Marshall’s 2014 exhibition at David Zwirner London.
Four blot paintings are pictured in the catalog and Marshall displayed one of them at the beginning of the exhibition. It was the first artwork visitors saw when they entered the gallery. “I wanted to disrupt expectations immediately,” Marshall told Sarah Douglas of ARTnews. “I thought that was a dramatic way of introducing looking and seeing.”
In the catalog, he said the blot paintings are “Rorschach-derived,” as opposed to being actual Rorschachs. The figure, it turns out, remains in the picture.
“I’m doing blots in part to confuse the idea of abstraction,” Marshall said in ARTnews. “A blot is not an abstraction, really, because we know what it is. It’s a blot. And a blot is a particular kind of figure.” CT