CLEVELAND – Gray’s Auctioneers will sell more than 800 works from the self-taught, Cleveland-based artist, the Rev. Albert Wagner (1924-2006) on Thursday, Sept. 20, beginning at 11 a.m. EDT. Gray’s 60th auction will consist solely of this artist’s vast and emotive collection of vibrant paintings and unique sculptures.
LiveAuctioneers.com will provide Internet live bidding.
The wide range of work presented in the sale portrays the reverend’s colorful life story along with his unique perspective on the world around him.
Born in the Deep South, Wagner came to Cleveland as an ambitious young man in search of opportunity. Despite his success as an entrepreneur and family man, Wagner’s life took a wayward path as he succumbed to infidelity, alcoholism, drug use and eventually, crime. In jeopardy of losing his livelihood and damaging his familial relationships, on the eve of his 50th birthday Wagner experienced a spiritual revelation through art. He gave up his destructive habits and became ordained as a Christian minister, henceforth creating art as the Rev. Albert Wagner.
As an outsider artist, Wagner set himself apart in artistic circles with a strong focus on spiritual themes and the African-American experience. His revelatory insights are expressed with bold and colorful liveliness that is both beautiful and obscure, and yet controversial all at once. Featured in the award-winning 2008 biographical documentary, One Bad Cat, and in the artist-perspective publication, Water Boy, his work has also been heralded in the New York Times, Life magazine, and by the Folk Art Society of America. Wagner’s works are on display at the American Visionary Art Museum and in several prominent private collections.
Kicking off the Rev. Wagner estate sale will be Moses and the Ten Commandments (Lot 1), a huge painting on plywood that is one of the earliest and most important works of the artist’s career. The subject matter – the commandments that are the basis of both Judaic and Christian faith – relates to the artist’s profound discovery of both God and art.
Another large-scale painting featured in the sale is Geronimo (Lot 43). Wagner had profound regard for Chief Geronimo of the Apache tribe – one of the last Native American chiefs to fall in America’s drive toward manifest destiny – regarding him as a true leader who was willing to fight for his people in the face of adversity. This work hangs in Gray’s gallery at the center of a collection of paintings depicting Native American and African tribal leaders. Wagner felt a deep resonance between the black and Native American communities and sought to compel both groups to look positively on America’s future, supporting each other through shared experience.
According to the artist’s daughter, Bonita Wagner Johnson, such a positive interpretation of her father’s work is key to understanding his intention. Themes of love, friendship, family and loyalty permeate the collection, whether they be derived through Old Testament teaching or a modern-day depiction of casual encounters between friends. The Zanoos (Lot 106) is an exceptional example of the latter category. Aesthetically it demonstrates the Wagner’s command of bold line and color, but perhaps even more notable is its thematic significance as a representation of family and redemption as indicated by the crosses worn around the parents’ necks, a symbolic motif that can be found repeated again and again throughout Wagner’s body of work. The painting demonstrates the methods in which Wagner’s art and ministry are intertwined.
In addition to these significant paintings, a number of important, monumental sculptures are also featured in the sale. City Beneath the Sea (Lot 249) is unanimously regarded as Wagner’s greatest sculptural masterpiece. Each one of the hundreds of objects that comprise the work was a gift given to Wagner by visitors to his house museum and church. These small tributes are the lasting evidence of all the lives touched by Wagner’s ministry and his art.
The Rev. Wagner believed that art should never be forgotten, with this sculpture serving as the ultimate monument to his memory. The piece entitled It Is Finished (Lot 254) is a striking, large-scale crucifix that has been dramatically hung in the lobby of Gray’s showroom, greeting visitors as they enter the exhibition. The title of the work commemorates the last words Jesus spoke before dying on the cross, while bold strokes of red paint throughout are meant to indicate Christ’s suffering. Rounding out the auction will be the very last sculpture Wagner ever constructed, a stunning assemblage called Dwelling in the Secret Place of the Most High (Lot 318). Built by the artist when he was elderly and in ill health, the work’s altar-like design makes it an appropriate tribute to his entire artistic and ministerial career.
This captivating collection of art will be auctioned in Gray’s auction showroom. Condition reports and shipping quotes are available upon request. For more information, please contact Serena Harragin at 216-458-7695 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ADDITIONAL LOTS OF NOTE