Few, if any, artist markets have exploded in 2022 like the late Ernie Barnes’ – and a sale today only continued the streak.
At a dedicated single-lot auction at Bonhams New York, a 1993 painting by Barnes sold for $1.6 million, more than tripling its low pre-sale estimate of $500,000.
The painting, Solid Rock Congregation, depicts a jubilant church scene in the southern United States. To the right of the composition is gospel singer Margaret Bell, a friend of Barnes who commissioned the artwork and is shown in a microphone.
Previously invisible to the public, the painting revels in the kind of kineticism for which Barnes, a former NFL player who gave up the game to pursue a career in art, is best known for.
“This work by Barnes is truly special and it was an honor to be able to give him the time he deserves,” Bonhams New York principal Andrew Huber said in a statement. “We knew it was going to get a lot of interest, but I’m really blown away by the response.”
This is not the first time feverish demand has inflated auction results for the artist’s work this year.
In May, Barne’s The sugar shacka 1976 painting that adorned the cover of Marvin Gaye’s album I want you and was shown during the TV show’s closing credits Good timesold for a stunning $15.3 million at Christie’s 20th Century Art Evening Sale, exceeding the presale estimate 76 times.
Bill Perkins, a Houston-based energy trader, emerged victorious, then quickly touted the significance of his new purchase: “For some segments of America, it’s more famous than the mona-lisa“, he told the New York Times after the sale.
Other works by Barnes that have sold this year include storm dance (1977), which grossed $2.3 million at Christie’s New York a day after the sugar shack sale in May; Listen (1980), which fetched $963,000 at Christie’s Hong Kong the same month; and Main Street Pool Hall (1978), which sold for $1.8 million at Christie’s London in June. (All figures are from the Artnet Price Database.)
Four months ago, Bonhams auctioned Barnes’ painting The conductor (circa 1971), adding an estimate of $25,000 to $35,000. He left for $80,000.
“Barnes’ career is a testament to a uniquely American spirit,” Huber added in an email to Artnet News. “It has been a privilege to be part of the story of this painting that captures the community and joy that makes Barnes one of the most admired figurative painters of his generation and the star artist of the 2022 season.”
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