Sunday, April 15, 2018

Meet the First Ever Black Woman Entrepreneur to Design a BMW Car -- And She's 82-Year Old!

In 1991, Esther Mahlangu, an 82-year old South African Ndebele artist and entrepreneur, became the first non-Western and first Black woman to design artwork on a BMW car. 26 years later, the German car giant is her partnering with her again for a new project.

Esther's unique and colorful artworks surely caught BMW's attention. In 1991, she's teamed up with BMW to create an art car as other artists like Andy Warhol, David Hockney, and Frank Stella had done before. But hers is different. She created the first "African Art Car" from a BMW 525i painted with classic motifs of the Ndebele tribe.

In 2016, BMW once again selected her to create new car designs for a BMW Individual 7 Series. The car was on display at the Frieze Art Fair which took place in London. Mahlangu's 1991 BMW Artcar was also exhibited at the British Museum as a part of  "South Africa: the art of a nation."

Her artworks strongly depict the traditions of Ndebele tribe where she came from. Women from the Ndebele tribe usually decorate the walls with striking patterns and designs as a means of communication within the community.

"The patterns I have used on the BMW parts marry tradition and to the essence of BMW. When BMW sent me the panels to paint I could see the design in my head and I just wanted to get started ... My heart was full of joy when BMW asked me to paint for them again," Esther said about her second collaboration with BMW.

Aside from BMW, she also got to work with other prestigious brands such as British Airways where her artworks have been featured on their plane tails. She also collaborated with John Legend for Beldevere, a beverage company, on their RED campaign which aims to fight against AIDS. Swedish sneaker brand Eytys also teamed up with her to create a special pair of sneakers embroidered with her artwork.

Even more, in April 2018, Mahlungu received an honorary doctorate by the University of Johannesburg for her contribution to the world of arts.

Despite being considered an icon in South Africa and an internationally-proclaimed artist, Mahlangu says she stays grounded.

"My art has taken me all over the world and I have seen many places," she said in a statement. "I have painted many walls and objects and my work is in many museums, but I am still Esther Mahlangu from Mpumalanga in South Africa..."

For more details about Esther Mahlangu and her artwork, visit

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Norman Lewis Work Leads $4.5 Million African American Art Auction At Swann


NEW YORK CITY — An untitled 1956 work by Norman Lewis led Swann Galleries’ April 5 African American fine art auction, selling for $725,000, with premium.

An untitled oil on canvas by Beauford Delaney of a village street scene from 1948 realized $557,000, a record for the artist.

A total of 12 artist records were set in this most successful sale in Swann Galleries’ history. The firm offered a total of 160 lots and 134 were sold for an 84 percent sell-through rate.

A full report on the sale will follow.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Why Investing in Fine Art is Different Than Investing in Traditional Asset Classes

Investment banker Huang Xiaoshuai and his wife Wei Mengyuan chat in front of their newly acquired painting Fire by Chinese artist Zeng Fangzhi at Art Basel in Hong Kong. Photo by Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images.
Investment banker Huang Xiaoshuai and his wife Wei Mengyuan chat in front of their newly acquired painting Fire by Chinese artist Zeng Fangzhi at Art Basel in Hong Kong. Photo by Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images.

Dmitry Rybolovlev thought he’d been ripped off when he paid the Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier $127.5 million for Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi in 2013, once he learned Bouvier had paid between $75 and $80 million for it. But after Salvator Mundi’s sale in November at Christie’s for $450.3 million, it was hard to argue he’d overpaid. Google searches for “investing in art” hit a 12-month peak just after the sale, suggesting that a new wave of investors may be circling the art market, which is already stacked with consultants, data providers, wealth managers, and lawyers who advise clients on how to approach fine art as an asset class.

Talk of art as an asset class is not quite new. One early art investor was the British Rail Pension Fund, which decided to invest approximately $70 million (about 3 percent of its holding) into fine art and collectibles between 1974 and 1981, in an attempt to diversify its portfolio and hedge against inflation. Due to careful buying and smart timing in its purchases and sales, it generated solid returns. But today’s casual art buyers may not fully appreciate the profound differences in how the art market functions compared with the market for stocks and bonds. Here’s a look at how those differences affect the risks and returns of being an art investor.

Buying art is easy, but selling is hard
The art world is a wonderful place with many delightful things to look at and buy, from a $2,000 print by KAWS to a $30 million painting by Pablo Picasso. With more galleries, art fairs, and online portals than ever before, spending money on art is easy. While a few popular artists may have waiting lists, most artists have work available for sale at the galleries that represent them. Buying art at auction is also easy because anyone who passes a basic credit check can bid, and the object goes to the highest bidder with no questions asked. No lists, no relationships to build and foster, no feelings or egos to manage.

But the ease of buying hides the challenges of selling. Galleries are typically reluctant to resell work they have already sold once, because they stand to make more money selling new work by that artist. Top auction houses want to sell proven names, so out-of-favor artists, or those whose careers have yet to take off, will not be considered. Negotiating auction house consignment agreements is also a complicated and nuanced process that disadvantages the infrequent consigner. Lastly, selling is a moment of truth when title, authenticity, and condition issues that may have been overlooked (or worse, not disclosed) at the time of purchase come to a head. Compare that to the ease of opening up an E-Trade account, where you can trade shares of Sotheby’s (BID) with far greater facility and speed than is required to unload an actual artwork at Sotheby’s.

Trading on non-public information is an important driver of returns
Stock and bond prices adjust constantly to reflect new information. An unexpected increase in quarterly earnings may cause a company’s stock price to jump, while a lower-than-expected monthly jobs report may cause government bond yields to fall. Because information is so valuable, securities law makes it a crime to trade on material, nonpublic information. Publicly traded companies are also required to disclose relevant information to all investors at the same time, to avoid giving a select few an advantage.

These rules do not apply to the lightly regulated art market comprised of private art galleries, individual collectors, and artists. In fact, it’s rather the opposite: Knowledgeable insiders may trade their information to others in the hope of making a sale. What if a dealer knew that a major museum was planning to stage a mid-career retrospective for a little-known artist in two years? She could offer that information, alongside a few paintings, to a prospective collector. If an auction house specialist knew that hard-to-detect forgeries were starting to plague a certain well-known artist’s market, he could alert loyal clients. Those in possession of market-moving information are free to use it for personal gain in the art industry. Being an art market insider with access to important tips and whispers has always been, and will likely continue to be, an important determinant of returns. Those without this privileged access are at a significant disadvantage.

The art market is illiquid, save for top names that regularly appear at auction
Liquidity is a measure of how quickly an asset can be converted into cash without the sale affecting the price. Cash is, by definition, the most liquid, with real estate, fine art, and collectibles among the most illiquid.

Works by 52,105 living and deceased artists appeared at auction in 2017, according to Art Basel and UBS’s The Art Market | 2017 report. While this number gives a sense of the breadth of the market, what’s much more interesting is that only one percent of these names accounted for the majority of sales value (64 percent). Like many talent markets, the art market is characterized by a winner-takes-all dynamic, in which the top names capture most of the rewards, with the rest selling for far less. As a result, there is very little liquidity in the art market, other than for the handful of stars whose works appear regularly at auction. By contrast, stock investors can easily sell company shares with relative ease.    

There are no reliable art market price indexes for measuring risk and returns
Investors around the world rely on indexes like the S&P 500, Dow Jones Industrial Average, and the Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index to define the securities that make up an asset class, and to understand historical risks and returns. For example, the S&P index, which tracks the stocks of 500 large companies, is a powerful tool because it is investible—investors can buy a mutual fund or exchange-traded fund that mimics the S&P 500 index and be confident they will get returns in line with it. Or they could buy a more expensive, actively managed mutual fund of large companies, and use the S&P 500 index to evaluate the manager’s performance.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to create an investable art index for three reasons. First, roughly half the art market’s annual sales ($63.7 billion in 2017) are automatically off limits for the purposes of creating an index, because they occur in the gallery market where public price disclosure is not required. Second, the indexes researchers have built using repeat sales of artworks at auction, such as the Mei Moses Art Indices (recently purchased by Sotheby’s and now known as Sotheby’s Mei Moses), paint an incomplete picture of the market and the movement of prices over time.

For example, suppose someone bought a Richard Diebenkorn drawing at auction in 1998 and then resold it 15 years later at auction. The annualized rate of return on this repeat sale is a data point used in the construction of the Mei Moses indexes. While a clever idea, very few objects “round trip” at auction relative to total auction turnover, probably less than two percent of annual transaction volume. Moreover, because only art that has gone up in value typically reappears at auction, these indexes suffer from what is called “survivor bias,” which can cause them to overstate returns and understate risk. Third, even if those indexes accurately captured the performance of the auction market as a whole, there is nothing in the real world you can buy to replicate that performance.

For most investors, stocks and bonds are enough. But for some, the prospect of putting something wonderful on their walls that may also produce great financial rewards is a siren call leading them to consider putting a portion of their wealth into art. Before committing serious capital, investment-oriented new collectors need to understand and embrace the sharp differences that exist between the art market and more traditional asset classes.  

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The 8TH Annual Southwest Black Art Show & Festival

Frank Frazier
Frank Frazier
Frank Frazier
Locally and internationally recognized visual artist Frank Frazier was breathlessly rushing to the airport Tuesday when I reached him by phone to talk about his latest project. He was on his way to pick up several fellow artists coming to Dallas for the venture.

Frazier is a founder and guiding force behind the ninth annual Southwest Black Art Show & Festival, which will be from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday at the African American Museum, 3536 Grand Ave., inside Fair Park.

The free three-day family affair will feature more than 20 local and national African-American and African visual artists and include activities for all ages. Original works will be on sale. Some artists will receive prizes including future solo exhibitions and the purchase of one of their works.

The museum and its Junior Associates organization are hosting the show and festival under the theme "We Are Who We Are."

"We want the public to come out and to realize that these artists exist," Frazier said hurriedly. " We don't have a lot of black galleries around any more where they can show their work. All we want is for people to come out and support them. We need to support these artists who have such great gifts."

Frazier, who was born in Harlem, N.Y., in the 1940s and has lived in Dallas since 1980, led creation of the festival in 2010. The self-taught talent began painting at age 7. He has been heralded internationally for stunning works that incorporate vibrant colors and African cultural themes depicting the energy and motion of his subjects. His works, which include oil paintings, Kente cloth collages and sculptures, have been featured in movies such as Coming to America, Waiting to Exhale and Bustin' Loose, as well as in TV shows and books.

The Vietnam War veteran has passionately advocated for visual artists throughout his career and often uses his art to express his feelings about social and political topics, including war, drugs, teenage pregnancy and civil rights.

Frazier and other organizers note that this year they have increased participation of female artists by 75 percent. Women make up half of artists in this year's show, a turnaround from their traditional under-representation.

"It's important that we make a change and get more women artists telling their stories," Frazier has said.

The event will include workshops for folks who want to learn what to look for when collecting art; hands-on activities; and presentations by authors, gallery owners, scholars and even tattoo artists. Featured artists include Dallas' Desmond Blair, who was born without hands and drew national media attention as an adolescent described as a child art prodigy; Fanta Celah, a jewelry designer, model and jazz singer; Nychelle Elise of Baltimore; Jonathon Romain, and Najee Dorsey.

To learn more, visit or call 214-565-9026 ext. 328.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Artificer: What the Recent Backlash Against Kehinde Wiley’s Work at NCMA Gets Wrong About Art’s Past and Present 

"Judith and Holofernes" (oil on linen, 2012) by Kehinde Wiley
"Judith and Holofernes" (oil on linen, 2012) by Kehinde Wiley
Presidential portraits tend to be conservative affairs, but Barack and Michelle Obama were not the first First Family to choose artists whose style was at least as pronounced as their skill to capture them for posterity. Chuck Close, whose hand is immediately recognizable in the flurries of tiny marks that compose his photorealist images, painted Bill Clinton. If you were looking for presidential-portrait controversy, it wouldn't be a bad idea to look at Close, whose reputation is in jeopardy after sexual harassment allegations against him surfaced late last year. But while Close's picture of Clinton hangs untroubled in the National Portrait Gallery, controversy recently surrounded the first African-American artists invited into it.
Kehinde Wiley, a forty-one-year-old New York-based painter, was the main focus of the backlash, not for his vivid portrait of Obama (though Sean Hannity, in a bizarre and now-deleted blog post, thought he found secret images of sperm hidden in the painting) but for something Wiley painted six years ago that conservative media and online commenters called racist. But Amy Sherald, a forty-four-year-old Baltimore-based painter, was also criticized for her cool, geometric take on Michelle Obama, which some deemed insufficiently lifelike.
Taste is taste, but presidential portraits are not regular art. Their purview is necessarily collective, not private; they can't simply set and obey their own rules. Their aesthetics are inseparable from politics, and they inevitably become referendums on American vision and values. The ideas that Wiley's art is racist and Sherald's is not objective rest on a patently white supremacist view of what images mean in the context of Eurocentric art history—the very view Wiley and Sherald's work is calibrated amid and against. The criticisms of the artists don't hold water, but they are revealing of the systemic forces African Americans must contend with.
The national outcry against Wiley found a significant site at our own North Carolina Museum of Art. In 2012, the museum purchased Wiley's "Judith and Holofernes," the offending painting. It's one of two Wiley oil paintings depicting a fashionable black woman holding the severed head of a white woman, embedded in the vibrant floral heraldry that famously suffuses his portraits, including that of Obama. "Judith and Holofernes" is based on an art historical reference that has been rendered by Europeans from Donatello to Botticelli over the centuries; it bears no direct relation to the presidential portrait. But based on some responses, you'd think Wiley had painted Obama cradling the severed head of Donald Trump.
Last month, when NCMA used the unveiling of the Obama portraits to proudly highlight the Wiley work in its collection, there was enough positive response to sustain hope for the American capacity to appreciate challenging art. But there was also more than enough negative feedback, some overtly racist, to cause alarm.
According to the museum, it received a steady stream of calls, Facebook messages, and emails from appalled citizens who wanted to know how the museum would feel about the painting if the races were reversed. These private complaints found plenty of public expression on social media. A Twitter user called Billy Anderson (@Bloody__Bill), whose feed is textbook alt-right, captured the prevailing sentiment of the detractors when he asked, "If he painted a white woman brandishing the head of a black woman.... can you imagine the outrage?" (When NCMA tweeted a picture of a three-year-old African-American child during a Black History Month tour, Anderson also tweeted back a horrifically racist cartoon.)
Others complained, if usually in less vituperative terms, on NCMA's Facebook and Instagram pages, making plangent or indignant comments about the museum condoning racial violence. NCMA repeatedly replied with a blog post explaining the context of the painting, but if it changed anyone's mind, there was no evidence of it.
"This needs no 'context'! A black person beheading what looks like a white child is not art," tweeted @Rebel_Front. "It is a threat."
That last part might be the only thing the naysayers are right about. But the picture is not a threat of actual violence. Rather, it's a symbolic threat to white supremacy. Wiley, who is known for painting contemporary African-American men in a heroically proportioned Renaissance style, is bending a violent image from art history—which is rife with them, and no one hears conservative commenters decrying the many depictions of the rape of the Sabine women, for instance—to the needs of a country that is reexamining the violent underpinnings of even its most benign-seeming traditions.
Wiley's painting, like many before it, is based on a story in the Biblical Book of Judith, which Protestants consider apocryphal, in which a beautiful widow gets an invading general drunk and decapitates him. In the paintings of yore, the scene was often used patriarchally, illustrating the danger of feminine wiles. But Wiley hijacks it for completely different purposes. Look at it this way: Judith is able to destroy a hostile, more powerful entity with his desire for her. By recasting Judith as a black women and Holofernes as a white woman, Wiley turns the story into an explosive comment on how white culture's own lust for and rapine of black culture might be turned against it.
Is this idea revolutionary? Yes, by definition. Is it frightening? Of course. Revolutions always are. But it does not suppose anything about the nature of a certain race. Rather, it vividly describes, with an aggression that is quite understandable if you take the merest glance at history, a real condition of modern American life: a deeply ingrained social structure of white vampirism on black culture and labor. It is racist to describe a race, but it is not racist to describe the world as we find it.
If the image is shocking, well, art has to get your attention in order to do anything. This mandate, combined with the urgency of the issue, is why it is not only OK but necessary for Wiley and others to paint images that shock us. As for whether it would be OK were the races in the painting reversed, no, of course not. Not only is it absurd to expect "fairness" toward white people after centuries of grotesque unfairness toward black people, but any such parallel, presuming a level playing field, is nonsense. An existentially threatened population depicting violence against a dominant one is not morally the same as the opposite. It's the difference between resistance and tyranny.
Wiley and Sherald are part of a current African-American vanguard, descended from the likes of Barkley L. Hendricks, who are decolonizing the Eurocentric canon and redefining black representation on their own terms. Sherald does this in her unique way in her portrait of Michelle Obama, which may not have the warm grandeur traditionalists crave from First Family portraiture but which powerfully represents the careful neutrality African-American women must cultivate to be taken seriously and stay safe. Like Wiley's Barack Obama portrait, it represents new ways of seeing that must be accepted into whatever default purists have in mind if we're to keep nudging the American scales toward equality and justice.
Why did the first African-American First Family choose artists that were conceptual rather than strictly representational? Because they have great taste, for one, but also because black life in America is necessarily conceptual. It has to be to create space in an oppressive dominant culture—one built on condoned racial violence—that representation alone merely replicates. When the baseline of reality is considered white by the powers that enforce those borders, you need something more than simple reality to make yourself seen, heard, and felt in your authentic humanity. You need the piercing subjective vision of a Wiley or a Sherald.