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Elizabeth Catlett Sculpture Sells for $389,000 at New York Auction, New Record for the Trailblazing Artist

Elizabeth Catlett, 'Seated Woman,' 1962, carved mahogany

Elizabeth Catlett, Seated Woman, 1962, carved mahogany.

COURTESY SWANN AUCTION GALLERIES

Artist Elizabeth Catlett, a key figure in the story of 20th century art and a current star of the acclaimed traveling exhibition “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power,” now has a new auction record.

On Tuesday, at Swann Auction Galleries in New York, Catlett’s Seated Woman (1962) sold for $389,000, breaking the late artist’s previous auction record of $288,000. That number was reached way back in 2009 when Swann sold her painted and carved cedar sculpture titled Homage to my young black sisters (1968).

Catlett’s carved mahogany work was the top lot in yesterday’s African-American Fine Art at Swann, which also included pieces by Romare Bearden, Sam Gilliam, McArthur Binion, and Ed Clark.

The artist, who died in 2012 at age 96, addressed issues of race and gender in her sculptures, paintings, and prints, focusing on the experiences of black people in 20th-century America. Her works, which depict sharecroppers, mothers and children, and major historical figures like Malcolm X and Harriet Tubman, can be found in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Art Institute of Chicago, and other institutions, but her auction numbers have long lagged those of her white contemporaries.

Nigel Freeman, the director of African-American Fine Art at Swann Galleries, said in a statement, “Elizabeth Catlett was especially deserving of a new record, and Seated Woman was the perfect work to do it, embodying all the wonderful qualities found in her wood sculpture.”

Catlett’s new top mark was not the only new record set at the sale. Kenneth Victor Young’s auction record more than doubled, with his 1972 painting Untitled (Abstract Composition) going for $233,000.

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