Ernie Barnes’s ‘Sugar Shack’ Painting Brings Big Price at Auction


Ernie Barnes’s most renowned portray, “The Sugar Shack,” an exultant dancing scene that was featured on the protect of Marvin Gaye’s album “I Want You” and for the duration of the closing credits of the Tv sitcom “Good Occasions,” marketed for a whopping $15.3 million at Christie’s 20th Century auction on Thursday night to the electrical power trader Monthly bill Perkins. It was 76 instances its significant estimate of $200,000.

“I stole it — I would have compensated a great deal additional,” reported Perkins, 53, in phone job interview soon after the sale. “For specified segments of America, it is much more well-known than the ‘Mona Lisa.’”

Even though based mostly in Houston, Perkins said he did not want to risk staying on the cell phone, so he flew to New York Town with his fiancée, Lara Sebastian, to attend the sale in particular person. He was fearful that he may possibly be outbid by a person of higher suggests. “What if Oprah demonstrates up? What if P. Diddy reveals up?” he recalled contemplating. “I’m not heading to be in a position to buy this piece.”

Ought to just about anything take place to hinder Perkins at the auction, he claimed he and Sebastian had a program. “I said, ‘Hey, babe, if I have a problem or I go out, do not fear about me: Preserve bidding.’”

Perkins was shocked by the extent of the opposition, which drew a full of 22 bidders and took 10 minutes. “It started out and it just went nuts,” he said.

In the conclusion, the bidding came down to Perkins vs. anyone else in the room — the art adviser Gurr Johns, in accordance to the artwork reporter Josh Baer —who was bidding on behalf of an unknown man or woman on the cellphone.

“He turns to me at a person place and says, ‘I’m not going to end,’” Perkins mentioned of Johns. “To which I replied, ‘Then I’m likely to make you pay.’”

The staggering price tag — much more than double that of a Cézanne in the sale, and more than a Monet and a de Kooning — reflected not only the rarity of Barnes’s impression, which was painted in 1976, but also the heightened fascination for operate by Black artists at a time when the art environment has woken up to troubles of range and manufactured a sturdy determination to increasing the canon. The result toppled Barnes’s former auction file of $550,000, set past November with the sale of his 1978 painting “Ballroom Soul,” also at Christie’s.

Born in 1938 in Durham, N.C., the younger Barnes found paintings by the previous masters at the house of a prominent attorney where his mom oversaw the residence workers (his father was a tobacco firm clerk).

Barnes attended North Carolina University of Durham — now North Carolina Central College — on an athletic scholarship and went on to perform qualified soccer, but his heart remained in drawing and portray. Bodily motion continued to inform his artwork, which usually showcased kinetic figures. Barnes produced five formal posters for the 1984 summer time Olympic Video games in Los Angeles and produced commissions for clients like the Countrywide Basketball Affiliation, Sylvester Stallone and Kanye West. He died in 2009.

Perkins, who was elevated in Jersey Metropolis, where his father, an legal professional, and his mother, an educator, owned quite a few will work by the abstract artist Norman Lewis, stated the Barnes portray — which he observed showcased on Gaye’s album and “Good Times” — was formative in his creative consciousness.

“You under no circumstances noticed paintings of Black individuals by Black artists,” he mentioned. “This launched not just me but all of America to Barnes’s do the job. It’s the only artwork that has at any time finished that. And these were being firsts. So this is by no means likely to materialize once more. At any time. The cultural significance of this piece is just nuts.”

Perkins said he was educated about art in component by Rick Lowe, the Houston-based artist and community organizer, whose Task Row Residences have come to be a major example of social apply art. He has many other Barnes will work, and these of other important Black artists of the earlier, together with Charles White and John T. Biggers, the renowned mural artist, as well as more youthful visual artists such as Angelbert Metoyer and Dowolu Jabari.

Lowe talked about how “the role of the collector is to deliver a signal of what is significant to museums and the environment,” Perkins claimed. “I took this to coronary heart Ok, I am now the defender of particular things, this is my position — to be a steward of particular items of art and also have fun undertaking it.”

He has collected function by Black artists whose value the environment experienced nevertheless to entirely realize. “I’m not the art historian, I’m not the art genius, but I know markets,” he claimed. “And I know when anything is way, way, way out of whack.”

The Barnes w
as a key illustration of that, Perkins explained.

He added that he hoped to loan the Barnes portray to a museum so the public could enjoy it prior to the operate retains pride of location in his house — in which “I can see it just about every day and soak up the memory dividend and the delighted absurdity that I can individual it.”

Woman artists also fared effectively on Thursday night, particularly Howardena Pindell, whose get the job done of sewn canvas squares offered for $1.3 million (estimate $300,000 to $500,000) Ruth Asawa, whose brass and copper wire do the job marketed for approximately $2 million (estimate $800,000 to $1,200,000) and Grace Hartigan, whose vibrant abstract “Early November” marketed for $1.4 million (estimate $800,000 to $1.2 million).

The auction’s blue-chip artists brought strong prices, like Monet, Van Gogh and Pollock. But there have been a couple of surprises, namely Emanuel Leutze’s grand “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” which bought for $45 million, more than two times its higher estimate of $20 million.

A 1909 Picasso bronze forged, “Head of a Woman (Fernande),” introduced $48.5 million for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s acquisition fund, owning not too long ago been deaccessioned by the museum and anticipated to promote for $30 million.

The impression of the Barnes sale was instantly apparent in Christie’s day sale on Friday, the place one more function by the artist — Storm Dance — offered for $2.3 million on an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. Perkins stated he had intended to invest in the two, but right after “Sugar Shack,” he was “weary and elated from struggle.”

“I’ve been waiting like 40 yrs for this moment,” he said.

“The good information is, I acquired the piece,” Perkins additional. “The bad information is, I do not believe I’m likely to be able to steal these matters anymore.”

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