Black art is becoming more sought after in the art market with numerous works sold for record-breaking prices in recent years. Many auction houses, art dealers and collectors are searching for emerging talents. To many black artists, their rising popularity did not come with benefits and money that they deserve.
One example is rising star painter Amoako Boafo, who made his auction debut early this year when his 2019 portrait The Lemon Bathing Suit was sold for a record £675,000 with fees, far exceeding the estimate of £30,000 – 50,000. The artist criticised the seller for putting his work up for auction merely eight months after completion. The seller (and an art flipper as described by many), Stefan Simchowitz, got more than 3,000% of what he had paid for.
The exhibition is presented in partnership with acclaimed curator Destinee Ross-Sutton, serving as a global platform for the Black art community’s voices to be amplified and empowered.
Named after the iconic James Brown song ‘Say it Loud: I’m Black and I’m Proud,’ this exhibition is the first event in a series of exhibitions and educational programming organised by Christie’s CSR Diversity & Inclusion Initiatives. 100% of the proceeds from the sale will be paid to the artists directly.
42 works including large scale oil paintings, limited-edition prints and photographs are offered at fixed prices ranging from US$475 to US$43,000. Buyers must agree not to resell the work at auction for at least five years; they must give the artist right of first refusal if they want to sell; they have to give 15% of the upside back to the artists if they sell it to someone else.
Ross-Sutton says these terms are the result of extensive conversations with artists and others about how best to support their career development. Despite these sale restrictions, around 75% to 80% of the works were already sold way before the sale ended on 21 August.
In efforts to create a more friendly place for Black artists in the secondary market, Christie’s announces its first exhibition solely dedicated to the promotion and empowerment of Black art. SAY IT LOUD (I’m Black and I’m Proud) presents the works of 22 international young, emerging and mid-career Black artists, together with extensive conditions to prevent buyers from flipping the works later for a profit.
Having seen works by emerging Black artists got flipped at auction for exponentially higher fees in recent years, Destinee Ross-Sutton, a native Harlemite, has always wanted to develop new standards that empower artists to take charge of their careers. ‘We cannot only put the blame on these so-called "flippers"—artists have to be more discerning and so do galleries. If we enable this kind of behaviour by not putting into place certain preventive measures, we have to take some of the blame,’ she says.
‘The current significant social climate highlighted the need for re-evaluation, for the confrontation of systemic racism and for considered change to be implemented,’ says Celine Cunha, the co-chairman of the employee initiatives group (corporate social responsibility) at Christie’s, who co-organised the sale.
Apart from the exhibition, Christie’s co-curated a 2-part Artist Talk & Consortium with The Harlem Arts Alliance covering topics about curating a new standard for equitable artist engagement. Through these events, Christie’s can gain access to an emerging group of clients and learn more about their preferences. They also demonstrate Christie’s commitment to addressing systemic racism and discrimination, which echo the latest Black Live Matters Movement advocating for racial and social justice in society.