A California university is selling a 1993 painting by Kerry James Marshall to raise funds for its research program at auction next month.
The work is being sold by Loma Linda University, which received it from a local doctor only three years ago. Proceeds from the sale will go the school’s genomics research division.
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Beauty Examined (1993) will hit the auction block on May 19 during a Sotheby’s New York evening sale devoted to art made within the last two decades. The work is expected to fetch a price between $8 million and $12 million. It does not have a financial guarantee, a spokesperson for the auction house said.
The work depicts a stark Black figures lying on its back. One arm is rendered with open flesh and bones, a detail that alludes to the subject being used for anatomical study.
It was painted in the same year the artist had his debut solo exhibition at Jack Shainman Gallery in New York. The artist’s renderings of the Black experience would go on to become some of the most coveted works produced by a living artist.
The work was gifted to the school in 2019 by Los Angeles pathologist Charles A. Sims, an alumnus of Loma Linda University. Together with his wife Nancy, Sims collected other works by Marshall. He loaned the works, including Beauty Examined, to a widely acclaimed Marshall retrospective that traveled the U.S. between 2016 and 2017.
Beauty Examined is the most expensive work by Marshall to be offered at auction since his 1997 canvas Past Times, which sold for $21.1 million in 2018 to music mogul Sean Combs.
The result put Marshall among the few contemporary Black artists whose work has sold for more than $10 million at auction. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kerry James Marshall, and Mark Bradford are among those that have crossed that threshold. Basquiat, whose record stands at $110.5 million, regularly commands the highest prices of these artists.
If Beauty Examined reaches its high estimate, it will be among the top three works by Marshall to sell at auction, behind Vignette 19 (2014), which was bought for $18.4 million by to Jeff Bezos at Sotheby’s in 2019.
The sale of Marshall’s works at auction has caused controversy in the past. In 2016, the artist condemned the city of Chicago’s plan to sell his mural painting Knowledge and Wonder (1995), which had been given an estimate of $10 million. He produced for a public library, and said the planned sale showed that the city had “wrung every bit of value they could from the fruits of my labor.” The city subsequently halted the sale after widespread criticism about allocation of the proceeds going to operating costs for the building.