Christie’s Event Provides New Model to Offer and Celebrate the Work of Black Artists

James Ardis
Published on
Tuesday June 23, 2020, Protester, Defund the Police Rally, City Hall by Accra Shepp. Photo courtesy of Christie’s.
Tuesday June 23, 2020, Protester, Defund the Police Rally, City Hall by Accra Shepp. Photo courtesy of Christie’s.

22 Black artists are represented in Christie’s “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)” event. The private sale and exhibition, which ends on August 21st, is different from most presented by auction houses. 100% of the proceeds from each work sold will go to the artist. Buyers also must sign a contract stating they will not resell the piece in the next five years without the artist’s consent.

Christie’s and the event’s curator, Destinee Ross-Sutton, believe these and other precautions will combat a trend in the art market that exploits young Black artists. Ross-Sutton, among many others, has observed flippers purchasing works from Black artists and selling them at auction soon after for substantially higher prices. Artnet cites a February sale in which a painting by Amoako Boafo sold for over 3,000 percent what the seller paid for it less than a year before.

Such behavior makes many Black artists and curators cautious of offers, including Ross-Sutton when she was selected by Christie’s for this project. “When [Christie’s junior specialist] Celine Cunha reached out, it was around the time the protests were at their height and I was feeling emotional,” Ross-Sutton said in conversation with Artnet. “I really wanted to know, ‘What’s the motive here?’”

Unarmed, 2016  by Azikiwe Mohammed. Photo courtesy of Christie’s.
Unarmed, 2016  by Azikiwe Mohammed. Photo courtesy of Christie’s.

The sale aims to celebrate and amplify the reach of work by Black artists such as Azikiwe Mohammed. Mohammed identifies himself as a “dude who makes stuff” as opposed to an artist. One of his ongoing projects is creating safe spaces for Black people. “You can build spaces that mirror the safety that you wish you had,” Mohammed told Artnet of the project. “As a Black man living in America, you are born dead, and every day that you successfully wake up is a triumph.”

Among his pieces in this Christie’s event is Unarmed, 2016 (sold). With this work, Mohammed displays the names of unarmed Black people killed in 2016. Each first name is written on its own nameplate against a red background.

Tuesday, June 6, 2020, Protesters, Brooklyn Borough Hall by Accra Shepp. Photo courtesy of Christie’s.
Tuesday, June 6, 2020, Protesters, Brooklyn Borough Hall by Accra Shepp. Photo courtesy of Christie’s.

Artist Accra Shepp is no stranger to protests. Before photographing various Black Lives Matter and Defund the Police protests this summer, he produced similar work during Occupy Wall Street in 2011 and other political gatherings. 

Shepp’s photographs largely focus on individuals in the protest as opposed to the crowd as a whole. Such work, as Artdaily describes it, “help[s] the public understand who the protesters are and by extension what the protest is.” Available from Shepp in this event is a photograph of protesters at Brooklyn Borough Hall (price on request) and one from a Defund the Police rally (USD 1,500), both taken in June of this year.

Ape Head Quilt I (Orangutan) by Kiyomi Taylor. Photo courtesy of Christie’s.
Ape Head Quilt I (Orangutan) by Kiyomi Taylor. Photo courtesy of Christie’s.

Wildlife features prominently in the work of Kiyomi Taylor. Apes, snakes, alligators, and even dinosaurs make an appearance in her mixed media projects. Her artist’s statement, too, begins with a message of predator and prey. “I am very small and very afraid,” she begins. “Small things recognize large things because they are likely near, and can eat them.” Two quilts, one of a gorilla ($1,600) and another of an orangutan (sold), are featured in the Christie’s sale. In both pieces, a watercolor cutout of the animal is framed by bright fabrics.

The “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)” exhibition and private sale will conclude on Friday, August 21st. Those interested in learning more can visit the Christie’s website.