African-American artist Nina Abney’s politically charged painting could make $300K at June 30 auction

Art Daily
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Nina Chanel Abney (African-American, b. 1982-), Untitled (Black Soap), 19ft triptych, acrylic on canvas, 2007, label on verso from Kravets Wehby Gallery, NY. Estimate $150,000-$300,000.
Nina Chanel Abney (African-American, b. 1982-), Untitled (Black Soap), 19ft triptych, acrylic on canvas, 2007, label on verso from Kravets Wehby Gallery, NY. Estimate $150,000-$300,000.

CHADDS FORD, PA.-William Bunch Auctions’ June 30 auction of 20th and 21st century fine art draws together a remarkable selection of paintings, drawings, sculptures, and media art by influential contemporary artists. The 278-lot sale is comprised exclusively of two private collections and offers an eclectic variety of American, European, and South Asian works. Bidding will be available by phone, absentee or live online. No in-gallery bidding will be permitted, due to Pennsylvania’s restrictions on public gatherings.

The headliner of the auction, Nina Chanel Abney’s (African-American, 1982-) Untitled (Black Soap) comes from the estate of a noted collector of American Maximalism, Stephen Heighton (1961-2010). Heighton was the pioneering co-founder of some of New York City’s most iconic LGBTQ hotspots including Barracuda, Elmo, and Industry. In addition to being a prolific collector, he curated several Manhattan gallery exhibitions of emerging art. His collection showcases recurrent themes of sexuality and sexism, along with the history and perceptions of race.

Abney’s Untitled (Black Soap), estimated at $150,000-$300,000, is a colossal 19-foot triptych and was the first piece the respected African-American artist ever sold in a gallery. In a 2009 interview for Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art, Stephen Heighton described the painting as “the most politically charged work she’s ever done. She depicts white people washing themselves with black soap to atone for their guilt over slavery.” The painting was included in the exhibition “Pink Polemic” at the Kravets Wehby Gallery, June 28-August 21, 2007.

“Stephen Heighton was a visionary art buyer who traveled in the same social circles as Andy Warhol. He knew everyone in New York’s art crowd and bought very wisely,” said auction house owner William Bunch. “He kept a three-ring binder that held receipts and relevant information about his purchases, including his $12,500 receipt for the Nina Chanel Abney triptych, which was the first painting he ever bought. All of that documentation was very helpful to us.”

Two other Nina Chanel Abney paintings from the Heighton estate collection are featured. Brothers in Blood, estimate $30,000-$60,000, portrays a young gang member alongside his two canine companions. He has a ‘187’ tattoo on his arm, representing Section 187 of California’s penal code, which defines the crime of murder. Just So, estimate: $6,000-$12,000, depicts an African-American woman beside an American Flag and a cross. Like many of Abney’s works, it carries political, racial, and religious undertones.

An important work by the Brooklyn-based artist Eddie Martinez (b. 1977-) is another highlight of Heighton’s collection. Voluptuoso Plant, estimated at $40,000-$80,000, depicts a canvas-filling planter of flowers, painted in Martinez’s distinct semi-abstractionist style. The piece is lively and raw, exhibiting bold color and texture through oil, acrylic and enamel media. Teetering between abstraction and representation, Martinez’s expressionist techniques reflect his earlier explorations of graffiti and street art.

Another standout piece from the Heighton collection is Andrew Schoultz’s (b. 1975-) 18-panel assemblage titled War in Motion While Systems Intensify, In Chaos We Become, estimate: $30,000-$60,000. The monumental artwork measures 10 by 28 feet. Schoultz often creates large-scale installations suitable for public display. The piece is dense with political and social commentary, illustrating the confusion and turbulence of our era. Schoultz says of the work: “When everything comes apart, people grab at the shards of their world and attempt to reassemble a recognizable picture.”

The second featured collection consists of international art, with a particular focus on South Asian works, amassed by Albert Lawrence Borden, who traveled the world as a buyer in the textiles industry. Borden has lived in Brazil, Egypt and Hong Kong, and was a frequent visitor to Pakistan, where he presciently acquired fine-quality Pakistani artworks.

An exceptional example from Borden’s collection is Dominique Salvador’s hyperrealist portrait titled Ecuador Anonymous, estimate $2,000-$4,000. This piece was the first in a series of portraits Ecuadorian children painted by Salvador.

A colorful work titled Taxi, by the Congolese artist Moke (1950-2001), is estimated at $2,000-$4,000. The painting is grounded in Moke’s fastidious observation of local life in bustling Kinshasa. It depicts a lively street scene with expressive characters engaged in a neighborhood dispute.

Rounding out the auction is a fine selection of Pakistani art, all from the Borden collection. Among the highlights are Mohammed Imran Qureshi’s miniature painting A Lover Waiting for his Beloved, estimate $6,000-$12,000; and a series of abstract paintings by Unver Shafi Khan (b. 1961-).

Various genres of art are represented in the Borden collection, with dozens of important works by Asian (including Pakistani), European and South American artists. “Like the Heighton collection, Mr. Borden’s art collection consists of works that were acquired before the artists were established names, so there are some early, highly regarded paintings,” said Bunch.

William Bunch’s Tuesday, June 30 sale of 20th and 21st century fine art featuring the collection of the late Stephen Heighton, and the international art collection of Albert Lawrence Borden will start at 12 noon Eastern Time. Bid absentee, by phone, or live online through BunchLive, LiveAuctioneers, or Invaluable. For additional information about any item in the auction, call 610-558-1800 or email [email protected] Preview art at the gallery by appointment only. All precautions will be taken, per government guidelines pertaining to COVID-19.