And now the forces of the art market are betting big on an artist who has previously struggled to pull off sales at auction houses such as Swann’s, which focuses on African American artists. On Thursday, New York galleries Ortuzar Projects and Andrew Kreps, as well as art firm UTA Fine Art, associated with a talent agency, announced that they would all jointly represent the Barnes estate in the future.
The $15 million price tag was clearly well beyond the most ambitious estimates, but there are signs that the market will only go from strength to strength. No one is more optimistic than the man who just dropped a sum of money on a painting 80 times what the auction house thought it would sell for.
“Imagine if a guy owned the Mona Lisa, or that of Monet water lilies— if someone was like, ‘Yeah, I bought this for a thousand dollars, and it’s on my living room wall,'” Perkins said. “That would be an amazing story, right? Well, that’s me.
Barnes’ meteoric resurgence dates back to 2018, when the California African American Museum began planning the artist’s first museum exhibition in decades.
“The African-Americans who knew Good time, they think back to the importance of this painting for their psyche,” said Bridget R. Cooks, the exhibition’s curator and professor at the University of California at Irvine. “And the centerpiece of the show was The sugar shack.”
The show attracted the interest of Arthur Lewis, the head of UTA Fine Art, the visual art arm of the venerable Los Angeles talent agency. He ended up talking to Luz Rodriguez, Barnes’ longtime deputy administrator of the estate, and they hacked a deal to hold a show at the Beverly Hills outpost in 2019. After a brief pandemic delay, it opened in late 2020, and one fans was Andrew Kreps, who found his way to work even though he admitted that Barnes’ work “wasn’t normally what I show” and was “a bit outside of the art world”.
“I came across this during the pandemic after the UTA show and I was like, Oh, okay, Good time,” he said. “But I really, really loved it. So I contacted the estate and we organized a show.
One day, Brother Tribeca from Kreps, Ale Ortuzar, came in to see some of the work that the domain had submitted. While Kreps mainly represents living artists, and some of them are quite young, Ortuzar, since leaving David Zwirner to open his own gallery in 2018, has focused on underrated artists who don’t haven’t gotten their due in New York yet. They agreed to perform the show together, in the shared space at 55 Walker Street.
To their surprise, sales were strong. Kreps said he sold a work to a very serious collector who installed it in his home next to an important painting by Jacob Lawrence, the black artist whose work has sold for up to $6 million. And The sugar shack also traded hands while hanging on the Kreps show. Although the painting was technically not for sale, when the show opened on September 24 it belonged to the Californian couple Jeannie and Jim Epstein, who bought it in 1986. But multiple sources said the Epsteins were not the senders of Ernie Barnes’ $15.3 million. Speaking to Kreps, he explained that while the Epsteins did indeed own the artwork when they lent it to the show, and it was not for sale, when the show went live. ended on October 30, it belonged to another entity. And this entity entrusted it to Christie’s a few months later.
After the hammer fell on The sugar shack, Perkins is immediately besieged. Coody, the filmmaker whose decades of creation Kanye West documentary, Jean-Yuhs, was a surprise Netflix hit, rolled his camera to follow Perkins as he walked across the room. (Before Barnes died, Kanye commissioned him to do a painting that commemorates surviving a near-fatal car crash, and the finished work features a winged, angel-like figure that looks a lot like Kanye West. .) a pack of reporters, Perkins visited a series of art dealers and advisers, many of whom speculated that Jensen had been on the phone with Melody Hobson, the wife of george lucas– the two are longtime collectors of Ernie Barnes, and they went on a buying spree before opening his Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in Los Angeles next year. At one point, the CEO of Christie’s Guillaume Cerutti came to offer his congratulations in person – a rare honor bestowed on any bidder, winner or not.
“I’m the CEO of Christie’s,” the Christie’s CEO told Perkins.
“I’m, uh, really emotional right now,” Perkins said. “Either I wanted it or I wanted this guy to pay.”
Despite the exorbitant price, when I spoke with Perkins a few days after the sale, with some time to reflect, he still believed that he not only paid a fair price for the job, but got it way cheaper than it’s worth.
“I can’t loot this room as cheap as before, but I looted anyway,” Perkins said. “When people are prejudiced, that’s how they underestimate things. But I can take the metrics they use to rate the art and easily show that it’s a $100 million painting.
Your bedsheet for the comings and goings in the art world this week and beyond…
…For the first time ever, MoMA PS1 held its annual gala onsite at the old schoolhouse the museum operates in Long Island City, a raucous upgrade from the usual lobby party at its big sister, MoMA , in Midtown. “This is Queens, and when you’re here you hear the subway,” director Kate Fowle said during a speech, after being temporarily drowned by the 7 train overhead. But that day, Queens had an energy distinct from Manhattan, ruler of the universe, as the tables were bought by the Soroses, Lauders, Speyers, Kravises, Fulds, Aaronses and Dubins. Artists in attendance included award winners Rashid Johnson, Deana Lawson, and Djali Brun-Cépéda, more Taryn Simon, Julie Mehretu, Chase Hall, Kayode Ojo, Odili Donald Odita, Hugh Hayden, Marie Karlberg, Fred Eversley, and so, so many others.
…A seasoned Frieze New York attendee would have certainly timed the two large paintings by the super-in-demand artist Issy Drink on the stand of Carlos/Ishikawa, his longtime London gallery. But discerning viewers also saw one hanging on the walls of Michael Werner’s booth, and a director confirmed that Wood would work with the gallery in the future. A stellar choice for everyone involved!