The dust has settled from a $1.1 billion New York Fall Auction Week. In a predictable bummer, post-auction reports from ArtTactic indicate that work by male artists comprised 98% of the major Impressionist & Modern evening sales and 87% of the Contemporary sales. On the bright side, auction records were set for a handful of important female artists including Alma Thomas and Carrie Mae Weems.
Over in Paris at Artcurial, Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi’s “Lucretia” (c. 1630) sold for $5.3 million, a significant jump from her previous auction record of $3.6 million.
In other auction news, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago just raised an impressive $6 million at its 2019 Benefit Art Auction. The auction didn’t only set a record for the museum; it also set an auction record for the entire Midwest.
The Asheville Art Museum in North Carolina, the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle, the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio, and the Baltimore Museum of Art are the latest museums to acquire work from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, an Atlanta-based nonprofit dedicated to raising the profile of artists from the African American South. Founded in 2010 to safeguard work from William S. Arnett’s substantial collection of “outsider art,” Souls Grown Deep has been strategically transferring its holdings to major arts institutions since 2014. Accounting for the latest agreements, it has placed more than 375 works in 20 institutions; the acquisition highlights exhibitions should be just around the corner.
The Henry Art Gallery is having a good week: in addition to the Souls Grow Deep acquisitions, it just received a gift of 51 contemporary artworks from John and Shari Behnke, Seattle-based philanthropists and collectors on the museum’s board.
Meanwhile, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis secured a major donation of 79 Expressionist drawings from local collectors Erwin and Miriam Kelen. The donation constitutes the largest gift of drawings to the museum to date and includes works by Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Marlene Dumas, and William Kentridge.
In another major acquisition, the Saul Steinberg Foundation made a gift to the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, New York: 64 works by — you guessed it — Saul Steinberg, whose illustrations graced the pages of The New Yorker for almost six decades.
In New Hampshire, funds from an anonymous donor allowed the Currier Museum of Art to purchase its (second) Usonian-style Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house.
Bringing their Charlotte Brontë miniature book total to five of the existing six, the Brontë Parsonage Museum acquired a tiny book that a teenaged Charlotte Brontë handmade in 1830 as reading material for her brother’s toy soldiers.
The New York Public Library also made a literary acquisition, adding 153 Virginia Woolf-related items — including letters, photographs, and first edition books — to some 3,700 Woolf materials already in its possession. The acquisition was half purchase on behalf of the library and half gift from donor William Beekman.
Rare archives from the American South found their way to California’s Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, which acquired two complementary collections of records regarding the history of slavery and abolitionism in the United States. The sobering acquisitions include written records of the sale and loan of slaves on the Dickinson & Shrewsbury salt-manufacturing plant (est. 1808) in West Virginia as well as the ledgers of the Michigan-based Quaker abolitionist and Underground Railroad stationmaster Zachariah Taylor Shugart. Shugart’s records are a rarity; for their own protection, Underground Railroad operators weren’t typically keen on recordkeeping.
In New York, the Whitney Museum of American Art announced the acquisition of 88 works by 40 of the artists featured in the 2019 Whitney Biennial. Some of the artists are already in the institution’s holdings — Simone Leigh, for example — while others including Wendy Red Star and Jonathan Lyndon Chase are collection newcomers. A painting by Eddie Arroyo, one of the artists who asked to withdraw his work from the biennial in protest of museum trustee Warren B. Kanders, is among the acquisitions.
In restitution news, an 18th-century Senegalese saber finally returned home, having been seized by the French in 1893. The sword belonged to Omar Saïdou Tall, a military and spiritual leader who fought off French colonialists. Tall’s descendants attended the handover from the French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe to Senegalese President Macky Sall. While French law currently prohibits museums from breaking with any of the objects in their collections, French President Emmanuel Macron has been making a bid for the restitution of African artifacts in French museums. Symbolically, the return of Tall’s sword is a good start.