An auction of African American Art at Swann Galleries on Thursday, October 7 totaled $5.1 million, making it the highest grossing sale in the company’s history. Twenty-four lots, including a record-breaking work by Afro-Cuban artist Belkis Ayón, were offered to benefit the Brandywine Workshop and Archives in Philadelphia. Founded in 1972 as a collective of artists and art teachers in the predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhood of Spring Garden, the iconic printmaking institution was among the first to support Ayón’s work in the US and helped shape the careers of several artists in the sale.
Ayón’s 1997 collagraph print “Temores Infundados” — “Unfounded Fears” — sold for $75,000 including premium, the highest price achieved by the artist. Artist records were also set elsewhere in the auction, for Camille Billops and Elizabeth Catlett. Most of the lots benefiting Brandywine surpassed their pre-auction estimates, together raising nearly $200,000 to build the nonprofit’s first endowment.
Prints by artists who completed residencies or produced work at Brandywine were among the standouts. Samella Lewis’s color lithograph “Together We Stand,” printed by the workshop in 1997, features a line of poetry by Maya Angelou; the unique artist’s proof is also signed and inscribed “Joy!” by Angelou herself. Some works were consigned directly from the personal collection of the organization’s co-founders, Allan and Anne Edmunds, such as Emma Amos’s dazzling silk aquatint “How Time Flies” (2004) and Benny Andrews’s screenprint “Untitled (Brown vs. Board of Education)” (2004).
Brandywine hopes to raise $5 million over the next five years, with a fundraising goal of $1 million by next fall, the workshop’s 50th anniversary. For the Swann sale, $200,000 was the target.
“The funds raised at yesterday’s auction at Swann Galleries in New York City was a very successful first step in our efforts to build an endowment at Brandywine that will help fund key staff positions and endow the visiting artists in residence program,” Allan Edmunds told Hyperallergic.
“We are delighted that artists, artist estates, and art collectors are participating by donating works or a percentage of their sales to auctions we are planning along with other strategies to involve our networks of supporters and institutions in this effort,” he added.
The top lot in the overall sale, Hale Woodruff’s “Carnival” (1958) — sold for $665,000 — was the artist’s largest abstract canvas to come under the hammer and had not been seen publicly in over 70 years. Elizabeth Catlett’s carved limestone sculpture “Head” (1943) fetched $485,000, nearly doubling its high estimate. The 13-by-9-inch bust is one of the few known stone pieces made artist, who emigrated to Mexico and rose to prominence for her poignant works centering the Black female experience. A different work by Catlett in the sale, a lithograph titled “Blues” printed and published by Brandywine in 1983, was sold to support the organization’s legacy endowment campaign.