More than 50 years after he first bought it, a professor at Harvard University is selling a portrait by Barkley Hendricks made when the artist was in the National Guard. Titled FTA (1968), the work will be sold during Phillips’s contemporary art evening in New York on November 17. Proceeds from the sale will go to benefit anti-racism initiatives.
The painting is estimated to sell for $4 million–$6 million, and if it finds a buyer for a price anywhere within that range, the work could also set a new record for the artist, who died in 2017.
FTA depicts a young Black private in a Vietnam War–era uniform—a recruit who served alongside Hendricks—standing against a green background. The single gold bar on his helmet doesn’t correspond to his rank. Rather, it denotes a lieutenant—a higher-ranking officer position that was not often awarded to Black soldiers at the time. The work’s title stands for “Fuck the Army,” an expression that was popular among G.I. draftees and later coopted by antiwar activists.
The owner of the work, Gordon Moore, is a professor at Harvard Medical School. He and his wife Charlotte purchased FTA more than five decades ago while they were in Philadelphia, where they came across a small exhibition of Hendricks’s works at Kenmore Galleries. At the time, Hendricks had just graduated from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and was about to attend Yale. In the interim, he’d enlisted in the National Guard in the late 1960s in order to avoid being drafted and sent overseas.
Whereas today Barkley Hendricks paintings sell for millions of dollars, that wasn’t always the case. When the Moores bought FTA, his paintings sold for around $5,000 each—a relatively large expense for the couple, who paid for the work in installments. Decades after the pair purchased the work, they loaned it for Hendricks’s 2008 retrospective at the Nasher Museum of Art in Durham, North Carolina, which helped bring the artist to the attention of the international art world.
According to John McCord, Phillips’s senior specialist of 2oth century and contemporary art, the couple never intended to sell the painting. But the events of recent years “continued to demonstrate the painful depths of racism in America, and it made them reconsider their priorities,” McCord said.
The Moores plan to put the proceeds from the sale of FTA towards anti-bias programs in preschool education. The couple came to the decision after seeking the advice of education experts on anti-racism initiatives. He and his wife have not yet selected which organizations will receive funds from the sale.
“They came to the conclusion that the money from the sale could be used to support innovative public interventions to help improve Black lives,” McCord said.
In the years following his death, Hendricks’s market has been on the rise. Last December, his 1972 portrait Mr. Johnson (Sammy From Miami), which features a seated subject wearing a football jersey and a red visor, sold for $4 million at Sotheby’s, exceeding its estimate of $2 million and setting a new record for the artist. Privately, his works are known to sell for even higher sums. Artnet News reported in 2020 that one buyer had purchased a Hendricks portrait for $14 million from another collector.