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Swann advocates African-American art in new sale

Auction house combines blue-chip works and those priced to entice new collectors

Auction house Swann is carving out a niche in African-American fine art. “We’re the only auction house that has a department dedicated to this material,” said Nigel Freeman, the director of the department. The top lot in its 150-work auction on 17 February is Elizabeth Catlett’s Untitled (Standing African-American Woman), 1967 (right), a four-feet tall bronze nude sculpture—one of the largest bronze works by the artist in private hands (est. $120,000-$180,000). Swann hopes to tempt institutional buying with headline works by artists such as Catlett and Harlem Renaissance artist Norman Lewis: “Museums are looking to fill gaps in their collections, and important artists like this need to be included in the discussion about what American art actually is,” says Freeman, citing recent Swann sales of works by Lewis to the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The bulk of the sale, however, is priced for new buyers: “There are few six-figure works, and even fewer seven-figure ones. We try to attract new collectors, so there are works available from $1,000,” he said. Is he worried that the auction, by separating the market, ghettoises its subjects? “No—of course we hope to see more African-American artists in the broader art sales, but as long as there is significant work that would not otherwise have a chance to come to the secondary market, there remains a lot of work to be done.”

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Pride of African American art'