Ernie Barnes’s most famous painting, “Sugar Shack,” an exultant dancing scene that was featured on the cover of Marvin Gaye’s album “I Want You” and during the closing credits of the TV sitcom “Good Times,” sold for a whopping $15.3 million at Christie’s 20th Century auction on Thursday evening to the former energy trader Bill Perkins, having been estimated at $150,000 to $200,000.
The staggering price — more than double that of a Cézanne, and more than a Monet and a de Kooning — reflected not only the rarity of Barnes’s image, which was painted in 1976, but also the heightened interest for work by Black artists at a time when the art world has woken up to issues of diversity and made a strong commitment to expanding the canon.
Barnes, a former football player who died in 2009, was known for his kinetic drawings and paintings of athletes, dancers and other figures.
Female artists also fared well on Thursday night, namely Howardena Pindell, whose work of sewn canvas squares sold for $1.3 million (estimate $300,000 to $500,000); Ruth Asawa, whose brass and copper wire work sold for nearly $2 million (estimate $800,000 to $1,200,000); and Grace Hartigan, whose colorful abstract “Early November” sold for $1.4 million (estimate $800,000 to $1.2 million).
The auction’s blue-chip artists brought solid prices, including Monet, Van Gogh and Pollock. But there were a few surprises, namely Emanuel Leutze’s grand “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” which sold for $45 million, more than twice its high estimate of $20 million.
A 1909 Picasso bronze cast, “Head of a Woman (Fernande),” brought $48.5 million for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s acquisition fund, having recently been deaccessioned by the museum and expected to sell for $30 million.