Chicago Taps Into Black Art For West Side Rehabilitation

By CultureBanx Team

  • “Knowledge and Wonder” estimated to sell for $10M - $15M

  • Black people make up nearly 44% of the Chicago’s West side population

Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel is betting that artwork by Kerry James Marshall can help the city revive its West side. He announced a library in the area where one of Marshall’s paintings resides, would sell the artwork estimated to go for $10 million - $15 million at Christie’s auction house.

Why This Matters: Marshall’s painting “Knowledge and Wonder,” was completed in 1995 for the Legler branch of the Chicago Public Library, he originally received a fee of $10,000 for the mural. The building is in the city’s poorer West side, where black people make up nearly 44% of the population, according to The New York Times.

Though Marshall would love to see libraries in the area improved, he is not in favor of selling the painting in which a predominantly black public and black children could see themselves as proud curious readers

The proceeds from the sale are set to expand library services to the same level as other major branches in the city. Though Marshall would love to see libraries in the area improved, he is not in favor of selling the painting in which a predominantly black public and black children could see themselves as proud curious readers. The artist lamented to the publication that selling the piece grossly tells black people of West Chicago, they must choose between sufficient civic services and an artwork created expressly for them.

Interestingly enough this isn’t the first time Chicago has used one of his pieces to fund a project. We previously reported on how the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA) sold a painting it bought from Marshall for $25,000 in 1997 for the South Building of its McCormick Square campus. Originally the artwork was purchased with public money raised through project-expansion bonds. It sold for $21 million and could make a small dent in the state’s debt problem, even with S&P projecting the state’s budget deficit will likely eclipse $7bn in its fiscal 2018 year.

Situational Awareness: Now that Marshall’s paintings have reached multi-million dollar prices, insurance and maintenance costs can weigh heavily on institutions that don’t specialize in holding art. Earlier this year, his 1997 painting “Past Times” sold for $21 million at Sotheby’s to Sean “Diddy” Combs, more than any work of art by a living African-American artist.

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