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Fewer Buyers, But Some Strong Prices at African-American Art Sale

Swann Galleries’ fifth sale of African American art realized $1.06 million on Feb. 17, falling well short of the $2 million low estimate.

NEW YORK—Swann Galleries’ fifth sale of African American art realized $1.06million on Feb. 17, falling well short of the $2 million low estimate. Including premium, the sale total was $1.3 million. Of the 169 lots on offer, 109, or 64 percent, were sold. “There were fewer buyers at this sale,” said Nigel Freeman, director of Swann’s African American art department.

Swann’s African American auctions, which have taken place twice a year (in February and October) since early 2007, feature many artists whose work has never appeared at auction before. Freeman said that the recent sale set 20 artist records, although he noted that 14 of those artists previously had not had work sold at auction.

The house’s sale last February realized $2.8 million for 270 lots offered and was 67 percent sold by volume (ANL, 3/4/08). Last October, Swann realized $1.4 million for 103 lots offered. That auction was also 67 percent sold by lot.

Move On Up a Little Higher, 1961, a charcoal drawing by Charles White (1918–79), drew the top price in the most recent auction, selling for $228,000 to an unidentified museum. The work, which was estimated at $200,000/250,000, had been bought by a British collector from ACA Gallery, New York, in 1961 and kept in his private collection in London since then, according to Freeman. “Most of our consignments are from private collections,” Freeman added. “It’s new material that hadn’t been seen before.”

The record price for a work by White was set at Swann’s October 2007 sale of African American art, when a buyer paid $360,000 for the oil General Moses (Harriet Tubman), 1965. Prior to that, the highest public sale price for the artist was $30,000, Freeman told ARTnewsletter.

Among the records at this sale were the $156,000 paid for Hale Woodruff’s oil painting Cinque Exhorts his Captives, 1973 (estimate: $75,000/100,000), and the $20,400 paid for Richard Mayhew’s painting Ascension, 1982 (estimate: $15,000/25,000).

Hughie Lee-Smith’s Untitled (Rooftop View), 1957, sold for $102,000 against an estimate of $50,000/75,000, the ­second-highest auction price for a work by the artist, after the $216,000 paid at Swann in October 2007 for the painting Slum Song, 1944 (estimate: $40,000/60,000).

A number of other works in the sale did well, including two Henry Ossawa Tanner paintings: The Annunciation to the Shepherds, circa 1895, which sold for $66,000 on an estimate of $60,000/90,000, and Adoration of the Golden Calf, circa 1895, which sold for $72,000 on an estimate of $40,000/60,000.

Alvin D. Loving Jr.’s acrylic-on-shaped-canvas Cube 27, 1970, sold for $84,000 on an estimate of $60,000/90,000, and Elizabeth Catlett’s marble Black Head, circa 1973–74, sold for $63,600 on an estimate of $75,000/100,000.

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