MUSIC AND THE WAY it makes people feel and move is a recurring theme in the work of Ernie Barnes (1938-2009) and is on full display in a painting he started in 1990 and completed in 1994. “Club 55” was commissioned by Motown Records to mark the 10-year anniversary of the death of Marvin Gaye.
The painting captures a lively nightclub scene with couples grooving on the dance floor with passion and intensity to the sounds of a live band. In the foreground, Gaye is pictured from behind wearing his signature skull cap. Leaning on the bar and taking in the scene, he raises his glass as though toasting the moment.
Lot 18: ERNIE BARNES, “Club 55,” 1990/1994 (acrylic and oil on canvas, in artist’s frame, 41 ⅝ by 53 ¼ inches / 105.7 by 135.3 cm). | Estimate $800,000-$1.2 million. SOLD for $1,170,000 fees included
“Club 55” is featured in Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated sale on Sept. 28 in New York. The auction is “guest curated” by art collector and NBA All-Star Kevin Love of the Miami Heat. Love highlighted 10 works from the 254-lot auction that he was particularly drawn to because of their storytelling qualities. “Club 55” was among his selections.
The catalog note that accompanies the lot includes a photo of Barnes working on the painting and cites him as “one of the greatest American painters of the post-war period.” It’s an apt, but incredibly ironic description given that major auction houses only began paying scant attention to Barnes a few years ago. They finally took serious notice and genuine interest in the artist last year after his most recognized painting, “The Sugar Shack” (1976) sold for a record-shattering $15.3 million against an estimate of $150,000-$200,000. The astounding result was worldwide news.
By contrast, Barnes who spent most of his career living and working in Los Angeles, was embraced and celebrated by African American collectors, Hollywood, and the music industry and all of these enduring patrons factor in the provenance of “Club 55.” After Motown commissioned the painting, it was later acquired by Motown Records chairman Jheryl Busby (1949-2008), according to the Sotheby’s.
Following Busby’s death, his trust offered the painting at a 2009 Save Africa’s Children auction in Los Angeles, where actor Dennis Haysbert purchased it. Haysbert, 69, has a slew of acting credits. He is known for his Allstate commercials and TV roles on “The Unit” and “24,” where he played the President of the United States. His films include the “Major League” series, “Dark Tower,” “Breakthrough,” and most recently, Flamin’ Hot” (2023).
Haysbert consigned “Club 55” for sale at Sotheby’s. The auction house has placed an estimate of $800,000-$1.2 million on the painting. It’s the highest estimate the artist has seen at auction.
Actor Dennis Haysbert consigned “Club 55” by Ernie Barnes for sale at Sotheby’s. The auction house has placed an estimate of $800,000-$1.2 million on the painting. It’s the highest estimate the artist has seen at auction.
Produced nearly two decades apart, in many respects, “Club 55” is akin to “The Sugar Shack.” Both are directly connected to Barnes’s North Carolina roots. According to Sotheby’s, the title “Club 55” references Highway 55, which passes through Durham, Barnes’s hometown. “The Sugar Shack” was inspired by a childhood memory of a dance the artist saw when he snuck into the Durham Armory.
Both paintings also have Marvin Gaye connections. A version of “The Sugar Shack” was featured on the cover of Gaye’s 1976 album “I Want You.” Most significantly, both paintings capture sultry nightclub scenes with crowded dance floors full of couples whose energy is palpable as their bodies move in response to the rhythm of soulful music.
Similar to “The Sugar Shack,” the scene in “Club 55” is bathed in light from two hanging pendant lights and takes place in a building with wood rafters. In “The Sugar Shack,” several banners are suspended from the rafters. “Club 55” features one. Paying tribute to Gaye, the banner reads: Marvin Gaye Lives and Club 55 Celebrates Let’s Get it On.
In addition to the Barnes painting from the collection of Haysbert, several other lots in the auction have significant provenances and come from notable collections, according to Sotheby’s. A metal lynch fragment sculpture by Melvin Edwards was given to Maya Angelou (1928-2014) by the artist in 2011. A leather painting by Winfred Rembert was consigned from the family collection of Arthur R. and Sylvia Berry, who met at Fisk University. An assemblage work by Betye Saar hails from the collection of Arman and Corice Arman.
Contemporary Curated features about 30 works by Black artists, including Belkis Ayón, Peter Bradley, Ed Clark, Robert Colescott, Sam Gilliam, Simone Leigh, Norman Lewis, Jennifer Packer, Adam Pendleton, Tschabalala Self, Stanley Whitney, and Michaela Yearwood-Dan. Toward the end of the sale, five figurative paintings by young emerging artists of African descent are being flipped onto the auction block. Four of the works were produced in the past two years and three are headed to sale after being acquired directly from the artists. CT
UPDATED (09/28/23): Auction results added
FIND MORE about artist’s resale rights: Resale rules have become the art world norm: what are they and are they enforceable? via Art Newspaper
Lot 2: ED CLARK, Untitled, 1987 (acrylic and dry pigment on paper, 37 3/8 by 49 1/4 inches / 95.1 by 125 cm). | Estimate $50,000-$70,000. SOLD FOR $95,250 fees included
Recognized for his bold strokes of abstract color, Clark made this work on paper in 1987, when he was splitting his time between New York and Paris. The painting was originally owned by Paris collectors artist Jean Miotte (1926-2016) and Dorothea Keeser, who acquired it directly from Clark.
Miotte was a French abstract painter. Keeser later founded the Chelsea Art Museum (-2011) in New York, focusing on post-war European art and housing the Jean Miotte Foundation and the archives of Miotte. The museum is now closed.
Lot 11: MELVIN EDWARDS,” OWWA Maya,” 2011 (steel, welded with the artist’s signature and titled on the reverse, 9 1/2 by 7 x 4 1/2 inches / 24.1 x 17.8 x 11.4 cm). | Estimate $30,000-$40,000. SOLD for $38,100 fees included
The catalog note for this lot includes a quote from Melvin Edwards and two photographs of Maya Angelou at the Organization of Women Writers Conference in New York on Oct. 14, 2011. In one photograph, the artist is presenting the current work to the renowned author and poet.
“I really don’t give away sculpture. But, in this case, Maya has my respect and has had it for a long time because she was at the center of the struggle of our people and definitely has assisted in our progress. We just wouldn’t be where we are without people like her,” Edwards said.
The abstract work from the artist’s Lynch Fragments series was made specifically in tribute to Angelou. When she died, “OWWA Maya” became part of her estate and was auctioned at Swann Galleries in 2015. It sold for $40,000 fees included.
The Sotheby’s auction also features “4 Day” (1988), another work from Edward’s Lynch Fragments series (SOLD for $50,800 fees included).
Lot 17: WINFRED REMBERT, Untitled, 2006 (dye on carved and tooled leather, 30 x 22 inches / 76.2 x 55.9 cm). | Estimate $120,000-$180,000. UNSOLD
Rembert was born in Cuthbert, Ga., and launched his artistic practice in New Haven, Conn. His untitled leather painting depicts a preacher, band, and parishioners feeling the spirit in what looks like a storefront church with a brick wall in the background. The artist gifted the work to collectors Arthur and Sylvia Berry of Albany, Ga., in 2010. The work comes to auction from the Professor Arthur R. and Sylvia Berry Family Collection.
Arthur was an artist and educator who taught at Alabama A&M University, Florida A&M University, and at Georgia’s Albany State University, where he served as chair of the art department. He died in 2015, when he was 91. Sylvia was a music educator, who retired after teaching for nearly 30 years in the Dougherty County School System and St. Theresa’s Catholic School. She died at age 90 in 2021. The couple met attending Fisk University, where Arthur studied art with Aaron Douglas.
Lot 52: BETYE SAAR, “Aunt Sally’s Mojo,” 1972 (mixed media assemblage box, 13 1/2 by 11 1/4 inches / 34.3 by 28.6 c). | Estimate $60,000-$80,000. SOLD for $107,950 fees included
Described by Sotheby’s as a “fantastical talismanic shrine,” Betye Saar’s “Aunt Sally’s Mojo” features beet red feathers in a shadow box with a portrait of a Black woman affixed to a decorative amulet. The lot is from a series of “mojo” works by the artist, altar-like assemblage pieces that center memory and ancestral pasts and have a variety of cultural references.
“Aunt Sally’s Mojo” comes to auction from the collection of the late artist Arman (1928-2005) and Corine Canton Arman. A French-born, American artist, Arman was a nouveau realiste who made sculptures out of an array of found objects, including deconstructed instruments with which he also created furniture. Yves Klein was among Arman’s contemporaries. He was influenced by Marcel Duchamp.
Corine has served on the boards of many cultural institutions and stewards her husband’s legacy. The couple assembled an expansive collection of African art. She has said she knew a lot about fashion but her husband taught her about African art, and “from there it snowballed.”
Lot 64: ROBERT COLESCOTT (1925-2009), “Hunchback of Notre Dame (Hommage to Victor Hugo),” 1991 (acrylic on canvas, 90 x 114 inches / 228.6 by 290.2 cm). | Estimate $1 million-$1.5 million. WITHDRAWN from auction
Colescott was the first Black artist to represent the United States with a solo exhibition at the Venice Biennale. He presented his work at the 47th Venice Biennale in 1997. “Hunchback of Notre Dame (Hommage to Victor Hugo)” was among the works on view.
The painting was acquired from Bonhams New York in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Sale on Nov. 11, 2021. It sold for $1.4 million fees included.
Lot 65: PETER BRADLEY, “Shamp 1,” 1976 (acrylic on canvas, 72 1/2 x 39 inches / 184.2 x 99.1 cm). | Estimate $60,000-$80,000. SOLD for $76,200 fees included
This painting by Bradley was featured in auction at Stair Galleries in Hudson, N.Y. (Dec. 1, 2007). It was Lot 29 and sold for $1,900.
Lot 66: WINFRED REMBERT, “Untitled (The Chain Gang Smoker),” 2011 (acrylic on carved and tooled leather, 32 3/8 x 22 1/2 in. / 82.2 x 57.2 cm). | Estimate $100,000-$150,000. SOLD for $127,000 fees included
Rembert’s “Untitled (The Chain Gang Smoker)” comes to auction from a private collection in Connecticut and was a gift from the artist. The catalog note includes a photograph of Rembert with the work in his studio in 2011.
Lot 106: SAM GILLIAM, “Shimmering Pisces,” 1975 (acrylic and canvas collage on beveled edge canvas, in 2 parts, each: 48 x 90 inches / 121.9 by 228.6 cm). | Estimate $150,000-$250,000. SOLD for $355,600 fees included
Known for his experimental approach to abstract painting, Gilliam spent his career in Washington, D.C. A rare, large-scale diptych, “Shimmering Pisces” is finished with artists’s inventive beveled edge technique. According to Sotheby’s, the work was commissioned by Aldus Chapin, the, former director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The painting was on prime display in the dining room of the Pisces Club, an exclusive Georgetown dining club patronized by the likes of Frank Sinatra and the Kennedys.
Lot 207: JENNIFER PACKER, Untitled, 2007 (oil on canvas, 72 x 65 inches / 182.9 x 165.1 cm). | Estimate $100,000-$150,000. SOLD for $165,100 fees included
Coming to auction from a Philadelphia collection, this painting was acquired directly from the artist in 2012. After earning her MFA from Yale University in 2012, Packer participated in the Studio Museum in Harlem’s artist-in-residence program (2012-13).
Lot 216: SIMONE LEIGH, Untitled, 2015 (terracotta and porcelain, 7 x 17 x 9 inches / 17.8 x 43.2 x 22.9 cm). | Estimate $40,000-$60,000. SOLD for $95,250 fees included
Leigh represented the United States at the 59th Venice Biennale in 2022. Her related traveling exhibition opens on Nov. 3 at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C.
“From Pads to Palette” (1995) is an autobiographical volume by Ernie Barnes. Two children’s books chronicle the artist’s life, “Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery” and “Pigskins to Paintbrushes: The Story of Football-Playing Artist Ernie Barnes,” written and illustrated by Don Tate. “Ed Clark: Big Sweep” accompanies the artist’s current gallery exhibition at Hauser & Wirth New York. “Melvin Edwards: Lynch Fragments” and “Melvin Edwards: Five Decades” survey the artist’s work. Winfred Rembert’s Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, “Chasing Me to My Grave: An Artist’s Memoir of the Jim Crow South” was written with Erin I. Kelly, includes a foreword by Equal Justice Initiative Founder Bryan Stevenson, and is generously illustrated with Rembert’s work. New volumes have recently been published about the work of Betye Saar, including “Betye Saar: Heart of a Wanderer,” “Betye Saar: Black Doll Blues,” and “Betye Saar: Serious Moonlight.” Recent publications dedicated to the work of Sam Gilliam include “Sam Gilliam,” which accompanied his 2020 solo show at Pace gallery, and “Sam Gilliam: The Last Five Years,” forthcoming in December. “Simone Leigh,” the artist’s first major monograph, will be published next week.
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