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A monumental canvas by Robert Colescott (1925-2009) that recently toured the US as the centrepiece of the artist’s retrospective, sold for a hammer price of $2.8m ($3.5m with fees) at Bonhams in New York on Friday (8 September). The result, though below the auction house’s estimate of $3m to $5m (which does not account for fees), made it among the artist’s most valuable works to sell at auction.
Bidding on 1919 (1980) lasted for just over two minutes before the painting went to Alia Dahl, a managing director at New York- and Los Angeles-based gallery Jeffrey Deitch. Dahl won the painting on behalf of a leading American private collection, according to Bonhams.
“This magnificent work will join one of the most robust collections in the nation, with a number of institutional-level works,” Dahl said in a statement. “The collector is beyond thrilled.”
The special single-lot auction was held to coincide with The Armory Show, New York’s biggest art fair. The painting, 1919 (1980), is a colourful, large-scale canvas portraying a map of the continental United States flanked by figures representing Colescott’s parents. According to Bonhams, the artist used the painting to weave together the history of race in the US and his own experience as a light-skinned Black American man who could pass as white. The painting served as a focal point of the Contemporary Arts Center Cincinnati’s 2019 retrospective Art and Race Matters: The Career of Robert Colescott, which later travelled to Portland, Sarasota, Chicago and then the New Museum in New York in 2022.
Earlier this year, Bonhams sold Colescott’s Miss Liberty (1980) for $3.7m ($4.5m with fees) during a February sale in Los Angeles that coincided with Frieze Los Angeles. The buyer was the Art Bridges Foundation, the non-profit established by billionaire Walmart heiress Alice Walton, who also founded the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.
Colescott’s auction record stands at $15.3m (including fees) for his George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware (1975), purchased at Sotheby’s in 2021 by the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. That institution is now scheduled to open in Los Angeles in 2025.