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Black Art Draws Needed Attention at Art Basel Miami

Black Art Draws Needed Attention at Art Basel Miami

By Donitra Clemons

  • Black artists made up just 2.4% of all acquisitions by major institutions in the last decade

  • One of MacArthur’s prize- winning Mark Bradford abstracts sold for $5M

After a record-breaking year in sales, works by Black artists continued to move art viewers and buyers at the 17th annual Art Basel Miami. At Basel, works by some Black artists like, “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be” by Amy Sherald, who painted the official portrait of Michelle Obama, yielded $175,000. One of MacArthur’s prize- winning Mark Bradford abstracts sold for $5 million. Following current market norms, many seven figure pieces like a $50 million Mark Rothko canvas were snatched up more slowly or not at all.  

When+I+let+go+of+what+I+am%2C+I+become+what+I+might+be+-+Amy+Shearld.jpg

Why This Matters: Visibility is important to the careers of artists of any color, allowing for more than just sells, but a chance for their message to be heard. This opportunity to widen the cultural dialogue at a major event like Art Basel Miami benefits everyone.

Just months ago,  Kerry James Marshall’s 1997 magnum opus, “Past Times,” shattered records when it was sold for $21 million, garnering the highest amount from any artwork sold at an auction by a living African-American artist.

As Black art sales continue to rise, it’s equally important for galleries, curatorial and institutional representation to increase

Beyond the financials, works of Black and emerging artists were buzzier than years past. After selling eight paintings, Derek Fordjour has a waiting list of almost 120 people on standby for upcoming works by the artist. Basel-goers admiring Theaster Gates’ work, could immerse themselves in his project  at the Prada-backed exhibition entitled, “The Black Corporation” at Freehand Miami. And Ebony G. Patterson staged her fourth show this year, swathing her installation at Pérez Art Museum with a gloriously biting mythical garden setting for her works on race, and gender to bloom.

Situational Awareness: As Black art sales continue to rise, it’s equally important for galleries, curatorial and institutional representation to increase.  African American artists made up just 2.4% of all acquisitions by major institutions in the last decade. Also, Black and Latinx people make up only 4% of key positions at arts institutions, according to the Mellon Foundation.

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