Material Culture sets record prices for outsider art at auction

Mary Tillman Smith (American/Mississippi, 1904-1995), painting on found metal, 60in. x 46in. Sold: $25,000 (auction record). Material Culture image

PHILADELPHIA – With fervent buyer participation through three online bidding platforms, telephone and floor bidding, Material Culture’s June 10 Straight Up: American Outsider Art auction broke records as it brought to market an exceptional, unknown collection of this once-overlooked class of fine art. All but 12 of the 339 lots sold for a total of $439,575. The sale presented opportunities for collectors at all level of the market. Absentee and Internet live bidding was available through LiveAuctioneers.

The highest price of the day, and a world record at auction, belonged to lot 46, a painting on metal by Mississippi-born Mary Tillman Smith (above), which sold for $25,000. Other works by the artist reached $15,000 and $11,875.

Prophet Royal Robertson (American/Louisiana, 1936-1997), ‘Arch Bishop Royal Robertson,’ lengthy messages, signed mixed media on paper, framed, 21½in. x 27½in. Sold: $6,985. Material Culture image

The sale was most impressive for its breadth and assortment of works by 20th century Southern black artists, including Purvis Young, James “Son Ford” Thomas, Mary Tillman Smith, David Butler, Mose Tolliver, Nelley Mae Brown, Bessie Harvey, Jimmy Lee Suddeth, Prophet Royal Robertson, Clementine Hunter and Willie White. Other outsider works offered included a large group by Jon Serl (below), as well as works by Howard Finster and B.F. Perkins.

Jon Serl (American/California, 1894-1993) ‘Albatross,’ 1955, oil painting on board, signed. Unframed. Size: 35.5” x 30”. Sold: $11,875

Another record was set for artist James “Son Ford” Thomas with his skull sculpture, lot 24, which brought $6,250 with premium.

James ‘Son Ford’ Thomas (American/Mississippi, 1926-1993), sculpture, unfired clay, teeth, aluminum foil, unsigned, 6½in. x 3in. x 4in. Sold: $6,250 (auction record). Material Culture image

The sale was capped off by a large offering of unframed works on paper by self-taught Alabama artist Sybil Gibson, which were snapped up by outsider art collectors, both new and established. All prices quoted include a 25 percent buyer’s premium.

Several major collectors and dealers chose to travel to Material Culture’s Philadelphia gallery to bid in person. Southern collectors and New York gallerists competed with the Internet and telephones driving the strong and record prices.

Purvis Young (American, 1943-2010), ‘3 Angels,’ painting on found wood assemblage, unframed, 49¾in. x 45in. Sold: $6,032. Material Culture image

Following on the success of their May 5 sale, which set auction records for works by renowned Haitian artists Jacques-Enguerrand Gourgue and Micius Stephane, as well as by Bahamian artist Amos Ferguson, Material Culture has emerged as a premier auction venue for outsider art.

The next Outsider Art offering at Material Culture will be Oct. 6 in their Fine, Folk, Outsider and Ethnographic Art Auction. Consignments are accepted until September 4. For more information contact Material Culture at  expert@materialculture.com.