Christie’s, New York City
Photos courtesy Christie’s
The widely anticipated Outsider and vernacular art sale at Christie’s was held the afternoon of Wednesday, January 18, midway through Americana Week. The sale, which offered 103 lots, totaled $2,064,384, with a sell-through rate of 99%. The presale estimates totaled $1.2/2 million, according to Cara Zimmerman, head of Americana and Outsider art at Christie’s.
A key draw was a selection of 14 works of paintings, sculptures, drawings, and assemblages by members of the Thornton Dial family from the collection of actor and activist Jane Fonda. The selection was titled “Things Grow in the United States: Works from the Collection of Jane Fonda.” The name was taken from one of Dial’s paintings.
“We had a pandemic conversation with Jane Fonda,” said Zimmerman, who noted that Fonda was working with The Fine Art Group, a London-based art advisory and finance firm. “It was special to work on this,” Zimmerman stated, explaining that Fonda had been introduced “to this world” by Bill Arnett, the curator and collector who founded the Souls Grown Deep Foundation. “She dove straight in, bringing their stories to the world.”
Fonda commented through Christie’s: “When you look at the artwork made by these talented men and women from the American South, you see that it’s truly great, it’s truly original, it’s truly American.”
Sales from Fonda’s collection totaled $277,956. The top lot from her collection was an untitled Thornton Dial assemblage from 1991 that sold for $107,100 (includes buyer’s premium); it was estimated at $50,000/100,000. A salesroom addendum listed nine lots from the collection that were offered without a reserve.
The top-selling lot of the sale was The Black Cat, dye on carved and tooled leather, by Winfred Rembert (1945-2021). The 32½" x 24¼" work is signed “Winfred Rembert” lower right. A woman in the salesroom battled a phone bidder for it. The phone bidder got it, paying $302,400 (est. $150,000/200,000). The underbidder said after the sale, “I have to be disciplined” and described herself as “a beginning collector.” The work went to a private collector. Rembert, incarcerated twice, grew up in the Jim Crow South. He began creating art at age 51. His 2021 memoir, Chasing Me to My Grave: An Artist’s Memoir of the Jim Crow South,was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize in the biography category. Rembert is now represented by Hauser & Wirth, and the gallery is presenting its first exhibition of Rembert’s work, in collaboration with Fort Gansevoort, in its East 69th Street location until April 22. The exhibition features over 40 works, some never before seen.
The top lot of the sale overall was The Black Cat by Winfred Rembert (1945-2021), which sold to a private collector for $302,400, an auction record for the artist. The artwork in dye on carved and tooled leather, 32½" x 24¼", had an estimate of $150,000/200,000. An exhibition of Rembert’s work, All of Me, is being held at Hauser & Wirth, New York City, at its East 69th Street location, in collaboration with Fort Gansevoort, until April 22. Over 40 works, some never before seen, are featured.
Further information is available online (www.christies.com).
The first of four works offered in the sale by Anna Zemankova (1908-1986) was this untitled colored pencil, graphite, and collage on paper, 21½" x 16½", signed lower right, which sold for $10,080 (est. $5000/10,000). The three other works sold within their estimates. During the exhibition, Cara Zimmerman remarked, “Zemankova’s work is beautiful, feminine, and intimate.” It was acquired from the Phyllis Kind Gallery, New York City, in 2002.
Voice of the Third Angel by Minnie Evans (1892-1987) sold to a phone bidder for $42,840 (est. $7000/10,000) after active bidding. The 14 1/8" x 18 1/8" oil and ink on cardboard is titled, signed twice, and dated November 22, 1963. It was acquired from the Luise Ross Gallery, New York City, in 1995.
A woman bidding in the salesroom bought Bad Habits by Chris Roberts-Antieau (b. 1950) for $3780 (est. $3000/5000). The painted fabric and mixed-media collage with its original artist-made frame, 43½" x 39¼", was executed in 2004.
Mona Lisa and Prince Charming by Lee Godie (1908-1994), along with a photograph of the artist pinned at upper left, sold for $8190 to a collector who said he bought the lot primarily for the photograph. “Photos bring more than the art. They’re rare.” Oftentimes collectors will pay more for the photos than the artwork. The 53" x 28½" graphite, ink, watercolor, and crayon on cut canvas with attached photograph is signed “Lee Godie” lower right and center left edge and inscribed on the reverse “Title Mona Lisa and Prince Charming / Artist Lee Godie / French Impressionist.”
This iconic work by Bill Traylor (c. 1853-1949) sold “on the book” for $252,000 (est. $200,000/300,000). Executed circa 1939, Goat, Camel, Lion and Figures, 14" x 22", graphite on repurposed card, “is the drawing Traylor rendered throughout a series of now-famous images by Charles Shannon.” The work had last sold at Christie’s, New York City, January 18, 2019, for $125,000 to an online bidder from Canada.
Six works by Ray Materson (b. 1954) were offered, and all sold well. Seen here is Gossip, 2008, unraveled sock threads, 6" x 4" overall, which sold for $11,340 (est. $3000/5000). The work is embroidered “RM8” in the lower right corner and is inscribed “Gossip / Ray Mat / 12 / 08” on the reverse.
Abe Lincoln, carved and painted wood, artist unknown, 12¼" x 9¾", sold to a phone bidder for $4788 (est. $2000/4000). It was described as “American School (19th/20th Century)” in the lot title and was from the estate of Jack R. Bershad.
This untitled work (Animal Bench with White Spots)by Thornton Dial Jr. (b. 1953), executed 1989-90, mixed media including carpet on painted wood, 36" x 66" x 20", sold to an online bidder from Georgia for $7560 (est. $2000/4000). The lot was offered with no reserve.
Angel of Vengeance by Elijah Pierce (1892-1984), property from the estate of Siri von Reis, sold to a phone bidder for $23,940 (est. $10,000/15,000). The enamel on carved wood, in an artist-made frame, 16¼" x 9¾", was executed circa 1934. Pierce opened a barbershop when he moved to Columbus, Ohio, in 1923, and he worked on and displayed his painted carvings there. The work has an applied label on the reverse reading “Angel of Vengeance $200.00.”
He She by Sam Doyle (1906-1986), enamel on repurposed metal siding, 37¼" x 30", sold to a phone bidder for $35,280 (est. $10,000/15,000). The work, executed 1978-82, is signed and initialed “Sam Doyle / SD” lower right and titled He She on theupper edge. Property from the estate of Siri von Reis, the work was acquired in 1990 from Ricco/Maresca Gallery, New York City.
Everybody’s Got a Right to the Tree of Life by Thornton Dial (1928-2016), oil on wood, 48 1/8" x 120", executed circa 1988, sold for $56,700 (est. $30,000/50,000) to gallerist and artist Phillip March Jones, who was bidding in the salesroom with a phone to his ear. The underbidder was an online bidder from Georgia. Another work by Dial with the same title is in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, according to the lot essay. This work was from the collection of Jane Fonda.
The top-selling lot from “Things Grow in the United States: Works from the Collection of Jane Fonda” was this untitled mixed media by Thornton Dial, including wire, fabric, and Splash Zone compound (epoxy) on canvas. The 1991 work, 76" x 65", sold for $107,100 (est. $50,000/100,000) to a phone bidder. In the early 1990s Dial was “playing with materials,” said Cara Zimmerman. “He’d use found materials and build up the images. The more you look, the more you see.” The assemblage had been acquired by Arnett Artists, Atlanta, Georgia, directly from the artist, and then it was acquired by Jane Fonda in the early 2000s.
This mixed-media artwork by Thornton Dial (1928-2016), wire, gloves, cloth, and Splash Zone compound (epoxy) on canvas, is not titled but is initialed “TD” on the reverse. It sold to gallery owner Hong Gyu Shin of Shin Gallery, New York City, who was bidding in the salesroom. He paid $37,800 for the 64" x 66" assemblage, which had an estimate of $50,000/100,000. It was bought for his own collection, he said, adding, “I always wanted one.” It came from the collection of Jane Fonda.
Originally published in the April 2023 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2023 Maine Antique Digest