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Ernie Barnes’ Market Booms in 2022



I. THE CATALYST


Ernie Barnes was one of the hottest artists of 2022. Compared to 2021, he saw 2x growth in number of pieces sold auction, 7x growth in average sale price, and 30x growth in his auction record sale price. The catalyst for this boom was the hotly contested sale of his most famous work, The Sugar Shack. This seminal work was commissioned by Marvin Gaye for the cover of his album I Want You and was featured on the groundbreaking TV show Good Times. The piece sold in May for $15.3M, shattering his previous auction record of $550K set just six months earlier. The piece attracted such interest, because, despite being Barnes' most famous work, it had never come up at auction. The eight figure value achieved at this auction recalibrated the value of all of Barnes' work. Not surprisingly, many more works came to auction, seeking to capitalize on the newly created market value. Throughout the year, 34 more Barnes paintings came to market with a total of 37 sold on the year. This was more than 2x the number of Barnes paintings auctioned in 2021, in which 18 pieces were auctioned. The average prices realized for works auctioned in 2022 jumped to $726K per piece, up from $89K in 2021. The upward trend in the value of Barnes' work started in June 2020, corresponding with the awakening of many to the systemic underrepresentation and hence undervaluation of works by African American and African Diasporic artists. In 2022, Barnes broke into the top 100 world ranking for artists based on auction sales, according to artprice.com's database of over 800,000 artists.


The Sugar Shack, 1976


II. THE BATTLE


When bidding started on Thursday, May 12th 2022 at Christie's Auction House in New York, there were 22 bidders on the phone (more in-person and online). The estimate for the work, based loosely on Barnes' previous auction record for similar works, was set between $150-200K. The bidding started at $120K but quickly shot up above $1M, a huge milestone for any artist. But the offers continued to rise up the single digit millions until the $10M mark was reached. At this stage, there were two bidders left, both who were in the room. One was a representative of art advisory Gurr Johns, who was bidding on behalf of an undisclosed client. The other was Bill Perkins, a Houston-based Energy Trader and art collector. The Sugar Shack had made a strong impression on Perkins as a teenager when he saw it on Good Times. "You never saw paintings of black people by black artists. This introduced not just me but all of America to Barnes' work...The cultural importance of this piece is just crazy." After a 10-minute, heated battle, Perkins eventually secured the piece with the top bid. "I'd been waiting for this moment for 40 years," Perkins said.


Bill Perkins

Image credit: Karen Warren


III. INSIGHT


The financial value of an art piece is closely tied to its cultural significance. Further, when one piece increases in value, that can impact the value of all other pieces from that artist as well. The case of Ernie Barnes' The Sugar Shack sale and his subsequent market boom in 2022 is a great illustration of this point. Barnes' work is no longer in the shadows and is likely to continue as a hot commodity among art collectors. But there are undoubtedly others who are undervalued. Who will be discovered next?


 

MORE ON ERNIE BARNES


ArtMatch wrote a feature on Ernie Barnes on January 16, 2022, before the The Sugar Shack sale. To learn more about Barnes' story and style, we invite you to read the post here.


ABOUT ARTMATCH


ArtMatch is an art advisory service designed to bring meaningful, valuable artwork to your home. We serve as your guide through each step of the collecting journey, offering market expertise, access and fun. To learn more about our services, we invite you to schedule a 15-minute introductory call here.


 

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