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How are Black artists influencing the art markets we love?

Black artists’ influence on the art market has never been greater than it is today.

“I bought some artwork for one million

Two years later, that shit worth two million

Few years later, that shit worth eight million

I can’t wait to give this shit to my children”

– Jay-Z – The Story of O.J., 4:44

The Black influence in the art market is at an all-time high, as expressed by well-known rapper Jay-Z. As we know, he has always flaunted an expensive and ever-expansive taste for highly intellectual living.

Black artists set the tone for high-quality art. And now, they influence the art market too.

In 2019, the highest bid on art from any living Black artist sold for $18 million. It was a work done by Kerry James Marshall.

Names like Sean “Diddy” Combs, Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean, and Alicia Keys have popped up as winners at auctions. Bids have been spent up to $21 million on a previous painting by Marshall, purchased by Diddy just one year before in 2018.

To this day, “Untitled” (1982) by Jean-Michel Basquiat has sold for $100 million. This holds an auction record for any American artist.

In the last couple of decades, Black artists have surfaced to the mainstream art market, as streetwear, hip hop, and other parts of Black culture have created platforms of their own.

Purveyors of the art world are nurturing and guiding those multidisciplinary art forms, especially in the high-stakes art world.

Promoting Black art from the African-American, African, and African-Diaspora people are the art curators, editors, directors, writers, collectors, and many other Black leaders of industries.

Thelma Golden and the influence of Black artists

Thelma Golden. PHOTO: ULIE-SKARRATT. ARTnews.
Thelma Golden. PHOTO: ULIE-SKARRATT. ARTnews.

Thelma Golden may have spent what seems like her entire lifetime at a single institution located in Harlem, NY. She started her career as an intern, then became a curatorial fellow at the Studio Museum in Harlem.

Finally, she took a position at the Whitney Museum of American Art soon after.

Over a decade spent at the Whitney, and she became a notable art curator with exhibitions including Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in American Art (1994).

Returning to the Studio Museum in Harlem in 2000, she would continue to highlight Black artists. Golden became the museum director and chief curator in 2005.

Studio Museum rendering of their new building. PHOTO: ADJAYE ASSOCIATES.
Studio Museum rendering of their new building. PHOTO: ADJAYE ASSOCIATES.

Golden is one of many curators who is and has been working to open the floor up to Black artists from all over, including Harlem’s own, Tschabalala Self.

Exploring the idea around Black female bodies, Self uses mixed media, paint, and printmaking to express her perspective.

In 2019, she participated as an Artist-In-Residence at Studio Museum in Harlem while exhibiting her work in a continuum.

Tschabalal Self PHOTO by Christian Defonte. Black art curation
Tschabalal Self PHOTO by Christian Defonte.

Antwaun Sargent and Black art curation

Antwaun Sargent is another curator, art critic, and writer. He has been pivotal in the conception of Black art and fashion by young Black photographers, and heavily instrumental in crafting a youth culture around it. 

The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art And Fashion by Sargent, in 2019, has summed up his understanding of what Black art is. He also covers the influence of Black art on the market of commercial fashion in his debut book

`Anttwuan Sargent, author of The New Black Vangaurd. PHOTO: Eric Chakeen. Black art curation
Antwaun Sargent, author of The New Black Vangaurd. PHOTO: Eric Chakeen.

The New Black Vanguard vignettes recent works from 15 Millennial and Gen-Z photographers crafting their idea of fashion and how it resonates with Black culture.

Photographs by Campbell Addy, Arielle Bobb-Willis, Micaiah Carter, Awol Erizku, Renell Medrano, Tyler Mitchell, Daniel Obasi, Ruth Ossai, Adrienne Raquel, Cary Fagan, and Joshua Kissi fill the pages in a catalog of art and fashion unique to the 21st century.

Sargent has dedicated his career to Black artists throughout. He has curated exhibitions while being a voice for Black art, contributing to publications like the New Yorker, New York Times, W magazine, Vogue, and Vice, to name a few.

The featured photographers have works seen globally by audiences. Not just in advertisements, campaigns, fashion and lifestyle publications, but in galleries, including solo shows. 

The New Black Vangaurd. 2019. Aperture.
The New Black Vangaurd. 2019. Aperture.

More importantly, the works are seen on their Instagram accounts, where this select group of photographers created their own galleries that Sargent himself identifies as their least bit of interest in “institutional validation,” in a chat for ARTnews live with Brooke Jaffe.

More on Sargent and The New Black Vanguard

The New Black Vanguard debuted in 2019, just before the racially tumultuous year of 2020, which included a pandemic. 

Sargent has recently taken the role of 1 of around 30 globally-positioned directors and curators of the Gagosian Gallery institution this past January of 2021.

Sargent will display a power that tends to be guarded by the hegemony in conceptualizing and implementing exhibitions, panels, and symposiums. He will also contribute to the Gagosian Quarterly publication. 

Naomi Beckwith and diversifying multidisciplinary art

Naomi Beckwith, Director, Curator, GUGGENHEIM. PHOTO: Nathan Keay, MCA Chicago.
Naomi Beckwith, Director, Curator, GUGGENHEIM. PHOTO: Nathan Keay, MCA Chicago.

Just a week before Sargent’s appointment, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago announced Naomi Beckwith as Deputy Director and Chief Curator of the prestigious Guggenheim Museum.

She also will be forwarding Black arts and artists to the art market and art world entirely. Beckwith will be helping as part of a plan to diversify, curate Black art, and grow the Guggenheim catalog.

Richard Armstrong, the museum’s director, said to The New York Times:

“She’s very adept at issues of identity and, particularly, multidisciplinary art. We have to think about the Guggenheim’s growth over the next few years, so it needs to be a person with enormous capacity.”

Richard Armstrong

New Black collectors are emerging on the art scene and disrupting the ways of the “conventional” art market

Besides Sean “JayZ” Carter, collectors from all walks of Black culture have also emerged on the art scene, creating a stir amongst traditional art dealers and collectors.

Collectors like Charles Moore, author of The Black Market: A Guide To Collecting Art, are informing and educating a new generation of Black collectors.

Moore and his book detail and cultivate knowledge around Black artists and their history, allowing readers to see the economic value of Black art.

The Black Market: A Guide To Art Collecting by Charles Moore.
The Black Market: A Guide To Art Collecting by Charles Moore.

An American collective of collectors, League OTO (Of Their Own), has shaken the auction rooms, having a contemporary art collection and the capital to be taken seriously.

The group of four, founded by two African-Americans, Gambriel Wills, and Demetrius Butler, including Jason Lee [Asian], and Jonathan Montalvo [Latino], have akin collecting art to how sneakerheads have treated sneaker collecting.

High school friends, Gambriel and Demetrius found their taste for street culture, particularly sneaker collecting, a winning feature in their collections of artwork from varying artists in varying mediums.

Gambriel Wills, Demetrius Butler of League OTO. Black influence art market
Gambriel Wills, Demetrius Butler of League OTO.

Black artists of all trades are helping Black art thrive

Black artists have displayed remarkable skill, surpassing the imagination and prowess of traditional painter techniques. We have Kehinde Wiley and Tschabalala Self, whose works can go for six figures or more.

Painters like Fahamu Pecou have challenged the status quo with the obscurity of the stereotypes of Black bodies. Artists like Renee CoxNorman Lewis, and Derrick Adams give Black culture a cultivated perspective.

Similarly, Deana Lawson and Carrie Mae Weems have shown how the black gaze onto the world has unique features reflecting struggle and beauty through elegant photography.

"Sleep," 2008 by Kehinde Wiley. Black influence art market
“Sleep,” 2008 by Kehinde Wiley.

Black culture is where Black art lives and thrives. And now it is expanding within the commercial art market.

Black art is a catalyst for the community and the culture surrounding the aura of Black people. The art market has increased its stock by including Black art [eg. “Untitled,” 1982], and today it is accredited to the Black community surrounding the art and uplifting the artist. 

Mainstream notarization and economic profit are just as important as creating art at will in environments that enhance those ideas. 

Today, Black artists are influential to the development of the art market and the next generation of artists. Black art is more than a token of life, it is the reflection of Black culture and the Black experience.

Look out for this article on PAGE magazine.