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Hughie Lee-Smith, ‘Aftermath,’ $365,000

Hughie Lee-Smith painting sets world auction record at Swann

Hughie Lee-Smith, ‘Aftermath,’ $365,000
Hughie Lee-Smith, ‘Aftermath,’ $365,000

NEW YORK — The spring offering of African American Art closed out the March auctions at Swann Galleries with an exceptional marathon sale bringing $3.6 million and an 89% sell-through rate, with 214 of the 241 lots on offer finding buyers.

“The continued success of our African American Art auctions, now in our 15th year, proves the breadth of this market. I am especially pleased that we set a new auction record for Hughie Lee-Smith — finally eclipsing our own record with the sale of Slum Song, set in 2007. We also are thrilled to achieve the highest price for a work on paper by Ed Clark,” said Nigel Freeman, the house’s director of African American art.

Hughie Lee-Smith was the standout artist of the sale, with four works by the artist earning spots among the top 20 results of the auction, including the top lot with Aftermath — a record for Lee-Smith at $365,000. The 1960s work on canvas is an excellent example of Lee-Smith’s mid-career series of stark, desolate urban scenes with Surrealist undertones. All 11 works by Lee-Smith in the sale, which spanned the breadth of the artist’s career, found buyers. Highlights include a 1937 sketch of a boy in charcoal that sold for $11,875; Still Life with Nectarines, a 1982 oil on canvas that achieved $45,000; and Quandary, a late-career oil on canvas from 1997 that earned $197,000.

Ed Clark’s monumental Spatial Image III set the phones and online platforms abuzz when it took its turn on the auction block. The 1982 dry-pigment abstraction — emblematic of Clark’s use of swaths of color that evoke chaos and control simultaneously — brought a record for a work on paper by the artist at $341,000.

The contemporary selection saw a strong performance with standout results for Mequitta Ahuja ($75,000), Michael A. Cummings ($47,500, an auction record), Freddie Styles ($42,500, an auction record), Mickalene Thomas ($40,000), and Belkis Ayon ($40,000) among others.

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Hughie Lee-Smith