3 Young Black artists are making waves at auctions

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Tschabalala Self, Out of Body, 2015
Tschabalala Self, Out of Body, 2015

3 Young Black artists, Tschabalala Self, Toyin Ojih Odutola and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, set new records at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips’ Contemporary Art Auctions in London.

Tschabalala Self at Christie’s

After a 3-year hiatus, Christie’s announced the return of its London Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening auction headlined by renowned artists such as Francis Bacon, Jean Dubuffet or Jean-Michel Basquiat.

With a total of £45,179,450 (premium included), the auction fell within the expected pre-sales margins. What was neither mundane nor expected was the surge of interest in Out of Body (2015), a painting by the young Black artist Tschabalala Self. It features bold female figures shaped out of colourful swaths of fabric, set against a neutral background. In what is now a trademark of Self’s style, these female forms have disproportionally sized body parts. In Out of Body, it is the characters’ lips, bosoms, and posteriors that stand out preeminently to convey her critical views of the treatment often reserved to black female bodies.

The painting was listed with a low estimate of £40,000 and a high estimate of £60,000. It ended up being sold for £371,250 and in the process, set a new auction record for the young artist.

Tschabalala Self was born in 1990. Since her graduation from Yale in 2015, she has gained acclaim for her unique depiction of complex Black female figures. Her practice is a visual investigation into black female identity mediated by her collage style paintings made mostly of textile and paint. She is among the trio of artists currently in residence at The Studio Museum in Harlem. For the last 51 years, the prestigious program has been as a stepping-stone in the career of illustrious Black artists including Kerry James Marshall and David Hammons in the 80’s and Leonardo Drew in the 90’s. Other recent alumni include Kehinde Wiley, Julie Mehretu and Njideka Akunyili Crosby.

The rising international interest in Self’s multimedia artwork (she also makes sculptures), along with her critically acclaimed exhibitions has created an expectation of a remarkable career. A track record on the secondary market, in the auction room, was one of the missing pieces in the puzzle of a great art career. Back in March, for the artist’s auction debut, her work Lilith sold at Phillips’ 20th century and contemporary Art evening for £125,000 against a high estimate of £60,000. Tschabalala Self’s new record of £371,250 cements her ascent as one of the most exciting emerging Black artists to watch.


Toyin Ojih Odutola, Compound Leaf, 2017
Toyin Ojih Odutola, Compound Leaf, 2017

Toyin Ojih Odutola at Sotheby’s

Toyin Ojih Odutola’s figurative paintings are focused on issues of identity and present a new perspective on Black experience and what it means to be Black and young today. The figures that inhabit her world are often depicted in the deepest shade of black with their skins beset by a multitude of marks.

Last year, Toyin Ojih Odutola drew critical acclaim for her solo show To wander Determined at The Whitney Museum of American Art. The show was a fictional chronicle of the lives of two Black aristocratic Nigerian families. Countering the usual stereotypes of poverty often associated with Nigeria, these characters were depicted in opulent environments exuding self-confidence and swagger.

Now, the artist is making headlines for her new record at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art evening auction where her self-portrait, Compound Leaf (2017) sold for £471,000 against a high estimate of £150,000. It represents nearly double of what she last achieved at auction. In March this year, at the same auction house, the artist’s painting, Selective Histories sold at auction for £250,000 far exceeding the high estimate of £150,000.

Lynette Yioadom-Boakye, Leave A Brick Under The Maple, 2015
Lynette Yioadom-Boakye, Leave A Brick Under The Maple, 2015

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye at Phillips

Lynette Yioadom-Boakye is a British-Ghanaian artist renowned for her striking portraits of Black people against unspecified backgrounds. Last year the artist won the Carnegie prize and is among the six artists included in the Ghanaian debut pavilion at the Venice Biennale alongside El Anatsui. The Tate where she is due to have a first major survey of her work presents her as “one of the most important painters of her generation.”

Lynette Yioadom-Boakye’s painting Leave A Brick Under The Maple (2015) was the last highlight in a week of records for these young Black artists. The painting sold for £795,000; £5,000 shy of double its high estimate. It’s not a record for the artist whose monochromatic portraiture of 5 female dancers, The hours behind you (2011) was sold at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening auction in New York for $1,575,000 (about £1,265,000) in 2017.

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