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Kerry James Marshall Painting Steals the Show at Sotheby’s $284.5 Million Contemporary Art Evening Auction

Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction, which kicked off at 7 PM Wednesday night, netted $284.5 million, including fees, with only two of the forty-nine works failing to sell. The sale fell short of the $319.2 million the auction house raked in last May, courtesy of the record-shattering untitled Jean-Michel Basquiat painting that sold for $110.5 million, but it far surpassed the low end of last night’s presale estimate, which was $207.7 million.

Among the high points of the auction was the hammer price of Kerry James Marshall’s monumental canvas Past Times, 1997, which first debuted at the Whitney Biennial in 1997 and was also a highlight of the artist’s recent mid-career survey that was co-organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. While it wasn’t the top lot of the night, the painting sold for $21 million, smashing the record for the highest price ever paid for one of the artist’s works. The total is also the largest sum ever paid for a work by a living African American artist at auction.

Other records that were set over the course of the evening include the winning bids of $28.4 million for David Hockney’s large-scale oil painting Pacific Coast Highway and Santa Monica, 1990, which doubled the amount previously recorded for one of the artist’s works, and $3.3 million for the Nigerian-born artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s Bush Babies, 2017. Akunyili Crosby’s work was included in a group of pieces by artists Mark Bradford, Julie Mehretu, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, and Glenn Ligon that were being auctioned to raise money for the construction of the new building for the Studio Museum in Harlem. All together the works brought in $16.4 million for the institution.

The much-anticipated sale of Basquiat’s massive painting Flesh and Spirit, 1982–83, a twelve-foot-wide work that was recently at the center of a family dispute, netted $30.7 million, and the work that secured the highest bid of the night, Jackson Pollock’s Number 32, 1949, was purchased by a telephone bidder for $34 million.

Preceding the auction was the sale of the Palm Beach–based modern and contemporary art collection of Morton and Barbara Mandel. Realizing $107.8 million, with all lots sold, the auction was a primer for the Contemporary Art Evening sale. The combined totals from both auctions equaled $391 million.