Unstretched Canvas Helps to Shrink Illinois Debt

  • “Past Times” painting could sell anywhere from $8 - $12 million
  • S&P projects Illinois budget deficit likely to eclipse $7 billion in fiscal 2018

The Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA) of Illinois plans to sell a painting by Chicago artist Kerry James Marshall to help out a municipal authority in the state. Marshall’s painting was acquired in 1997 for $25,000 and could sell at auction for $8 - $12 million. Is black art a new play for states to get out of debt?

Why This Matters: If Marshall’s “Past Times” painting sells for $12 million, it would represent an increase of nearly 48,000% over its initial purchase price. The painting was a centerpiece of Marshall’s acclaimed traveling retrospective. It was bought by the MPEA for the South Building of its McCormick Square campus, which was completed in 1996, according to Sotheby’s. Cynthia McCafferty, a spokeswoman for the authority told Bloomberg, they used public money raised through project-expansion bonds to buy the art.

Illinois is the fifth most populous U.S. state and is saddled with debt. Moody’s Investors Service and S&P Global Ratings rank Illinois one level above junk at BBB-, the worst rating of any state. S&P projected the state’s budget deficit was likely to eclipse $7bn in its fiscal 2018 year. While this may only make a small dent in the states debt problem, Illinois needs all the help it can get.

What’s Next: Works by black artists have long been overlooked and undervalued by the wider art market. Now artists like Marshall occupy one of the market’s hottest corners with growing demand from museums and private collectors. The MPEA has voted to sell his painting at a Sotheby’s auction next month, so we’ll be watching to see exactly how much money it fetches.

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