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Uneven Results Mark Swann African-American Art Sale

Overall, Swann Galleries’ Oct. 7 auction of African-American fine art earned $820,973, falling disappointingly below the estimate of $1.2 million/1.8 million.

NEW YORK—Overall, Swann Galleries’ Oct. 7 auction of African-American fine art earned $820,973, falling disappointingly below the estimate of $1.2 million/1.8 million. “This sale suffered from the effects of the economy,” said Nigel Freeman, director of the auction house’s African-American department.

Robert Colescott’s acrylic on canvas A Legend Dimly Told, 1982, was one of the few bright spots, earning $132,000, well in excess of the $50,000/75,000 estimate and setting a record for the artist. Colescott’s previous auction high was $93,600 (estimate: $10,000/15,000), set at Christie’s in 2006 for Jus’ Folks by Vermeer, 1976.

Other strong performers in the Swann sale included Sargent Claude Johnson’s sculptural copper Mask, 1933, which sold for an auction record of $67,200 compared with an estimate of $30,000/50,000 and Jacob Lawrence’s gouache on board Two Card Players, ca.1941–42, which also earned $67,200, more than doubling its estimate of $20,000/30,000. Alvin D. Loving Jr.’s assemblage painting 9 Septehedrons, 1969, sold for $36,000 on an estimate of $30,000/50,000 and Bob Thompson’s acrylic on paper Echo and Narcissus, 1965, sold for $26,400 (estimate: $20,000/30,000.

Elizabeth Catlett’s cast bronze sculpture Portrait, 1972, sold for $24,000, within the estimate of $20,000/30,000 and William Harper’s Untitled (French Landscape), 1905, sold for $19,200, well above the estimate of $6,000/9,000. Other lots found buyers, albeit at prices below estimates, such as William Edmondson’s stone sculpture Squirrel, ca. 1940, which took $31,200, compared with an estimate of $40,000/60,000 and Norman Lewis’s oil Many Faces of Legend II, 1960, which sold for $24,000, against an estimate of $30,000/50,000.

In all, 99, or 71 percent, of the 140 lots found buyers. Among those that failed to sell were Beauford Delaney’s painting Untitled (Yellow, Green and White Abstraction), ca. 1959 (estimate: $120,000/180,000) and David Hammons’s untitled enamel on masonite painting, ca. 1969 (estimate: $80,000/120,000).

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