Thursday, April 19, 2018

Black art spurs gold rush as collector stampede drives up prices

Former first lady Michelle Obama and former President Barack Obama pose with artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald during the unveiling of their official portraits at the National Portrait Gallery on Monday, Feb. 12, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery / Abaca Press)
Amy Sherald once waited tables at the Baltimore Museum of Art.
Today she's a trustee, with collectors and other museums clamoring for her work after unveiling her portrait of Michelle Obama at the National Portrait Gallery earlier this year.
Black artists, long overlooked and undervalued, now occupy one of the hottest corners of the market. Famous buyers have included hedge fund managers Ken Griffin, Steve Cohen and Jim Chanos, major museums, and CNN's Anderson Cooper.
"It's such a watershed moment," said Lisa Melandri, executive director of Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, which will host Sherald's first solo museum exhibition next month. "It realigns the canon of art history."
Unlike trends that tend to fade after a year or two, black art has been sustained by unparalleled museum support. The gold rush is playing out from Sotheby's, where billionaire Yusaku Maezawa paid $110.5 million for a Jean-Michel Basquiat canvas last May, to sold-out exhibitions and art fairs worldwide.
U.S. institutions are realizing their collections have largely overlooked the black figure.
"It's a bit of a mad scramble," said Todd Levin, a New York art adviser. "They're all aware that they have been behind the curve in supporting, collecting and exhibiting work by African-American artists and they're all making tremendous expenditures to make sure there's more equal representation."
Perez Art Museum Miami established a $1.1 million fund, with backing from billionaire Jorge Perez and the Knight Foundation, that will allow it to acquire black art in perpetuity, no matter who's in charge, said museum director Franklin Sirmans.
The Museum of Modern Art in New York acquired more than 430 works by black artists since 2010, according to Ann Temkin, the chief curator of painting and sculpture.
"They're part of a very rich and textured history that we weren't really committed to exploring," Temkin said. Now museums have to "literally pay for the fact that we weren't as actively engaged in this a decade ago."
Los Angeles-born artist Mark Bradford is photographed in front of "The Next Hot Line." This piece is part of his show "Scorched Earth," installed at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles in 2015. Black artists, long overlooked and undervalued, now occupy one of the hottest corners of the market. 
 (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
This week, MoMA got a big break. Chris Ofili's "The Holy Virgin Mary" -- an elephant dung-adorned canvas depicting a black Madonna -- entered the museum's permanent collection, thanks to a gift from Cohen, a MoMA trustee. The painting -- made famous in 1999 when then-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani tried to have it banished from an exhibit -- fetched $4.6 million in 2015, an auction record for the British artist.
In December, MoMA also received "Tomorrow Is Another Day" -- a 2016 painting by Los Angeles artist Mark Bradford -- as a gift from Griffin, the founder of Citadel. "Helter Skelter I," a Bradford painting inspired by serial killer Charles Manson, was acquired earlier this year by the Broad museum for $12 million, an auction record for the artist. The seller was retired tennis pro John McEnroe.
In the past decade, Swann Auction Galleries in New York, which sold $5.3 million of African-American art in 2017, launched hundreds of black artists at auction and established records for major figures, including Abstract Expressionist painter Norman Lewis.
"It's a backlog of talent," said Miami collector Mera Rubell. "You're looking at four generations of black artists."
Take Sam Gilliam, 84, a Color Field painter in Washington. A decade ago, his auction prices were in the "embarrassingly low" $10,000 range, said Nigel Freeman, Swann's director of African-American fine art. Since 2014, auction sales increased 662 percent, totaling $2.5 million last year, according to
Sotheby's sold a Gilliam in September for a record $684,500. In January, Robert Mnuchin's Upper East Side gallery, better known for selling Warhols and de Koonings, hosted a solo show for the artist.
David Zwirner, one of the world's leading galleries, recently started working with Kerry James Marshall of Chicago whose prices hit a record $5 million at auction in November, following an acclaimed retrospective that visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Portraits by Barkley Hendricks, who died last year, also are in demand, with auction revenue up 2,400 percent since 2014.
A piece by Sam Gilliam was recently acquired by Williams College Museum of Art. 
(Katya Kazakina / Bloomberg)
"Collectors are very interested in what artists of color have to say now," said Jack Shainman, whose gallery represents Hendricks. "For many years it didn't matter."
Among those drawn to these narratives is CNN's Cooper, whose eclectic collection of mostly figurative art ranges from Old Master canvases to hand-painted, wooden barber signs from East Africa.
In recent years Cooper added works by several black artists to his collection, although he said he doesn't view black art as a collecting category. He owns an abstract painting by Bradford, which incorporates pieces of paper from his mother's hair salon and Nathaniel Mary Quinn's collage portraits of the residents of Chicago housing projects where he grew up.
"The work seems a genuine reflection of their past , present and view on society," Cooper said of the artists he admires.
The Studio Museum of Harlem, led by Thelma Golden, has been the launching pad for many black artists. Rubell, the Miami art collector, and her husband Don helped drive greater acceptance in the U.S. In 2008, their foundation featured three generations of black artists in "30 Americans." The exhibition crisscrossed the country, visiting 11 museums, with five more scheduled through early 2020. Most of the featured artists became international sensations.
Emerging black artists starred last month at the Armory Show, New York's biggest contemporary art fair, where Nicodim Gallery sold out of paintings and sculptures by South Africa's Simphiwe Ndzube on the first day, with prices ranging from $20,000 to $40,000.
"The world has fallen in love with black artists," said Rubell, who bought a multi-media installation by Ndzube. "They have a powerful story to tell."

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.