Bill Perkins made a statement in the art world recently when he made a record-breaking acquisition of The Sugar Shack, a 1976 artwork by a former football player and artist Ernie Barnes.
The auctioneer added that Perkins spent $15.3 million for the framed artwork, more than 27 times the initial record established by the African American artist.
“Great times!!!!” Perkins took to Twitter after acquiring the picture for eight-figures.
Good times!!!! https://t.co/OiNt7G9gGq
— Bill Perkins (Guy) (@bp22) May 13, 2022
The large purchase that Perkins made at the Christie’s auction in New York on May 12, which was a rare moment of a gripping storyline in the usually banal and lackluster art auction community, attracted the interest of several major outlets, such as the New York Times, USA Today, and Vanity Fair.
Several interested buyers
A familiar figure in the poker world-renowned for his appearances on High Stakes Poker, Perkins was one of 22 bidders at the auction and started by proposing $500,000 for the painting. The painting depicts a cohort of African American dancers performing at the Durham Armory in 1952, a famous dance hall when the United States still segregated North Carolina.
A Los Angeles-based art consultant named Dane Jensen then increased the price while talking on the phone to his client. Vanity Fair assumed that the client was Mellody Hobson, George Lucas’s wife. After that, Perkins increased the bid to $2 million, drawing on his extensive skill as a poker player to successfully re-raise the stakes.
The back-and-forth bidding battle persisted, and it was at this point that Perkins and Jensen found themselves in an agitated situation.
According to Vanity Fair, Jensen’s response to Perkins’ question was: “I’m not going to quit.”
“Well, then, I’ll make you pay!” Perkins fired back.
After everything was said and done, Perkins made a final offer of $15.3 million to get the artwork for more than 80 times what the auction company intended to sell.
Is it worth the price?
Perkins defends his extravagant purchase of the piece of art and even believes that he got a good bargain on it, despite the fact that the price tag of 15.3 million dollars may seem outrageous.
“It’s a cultural treasure,” Perkins stated recently on the Artelligence Podcast.
“And I knew it was a cultural treasure, but since I acquired the work, the number of individuals who have come out to me… black, white, several Americans who say, ‘I love that picture, it reminds me of this,’ it’s cemented in my view that it’s a cultural treasure.”
This week on the Artelligence podcast we talked to @bp22 and the extraordinary turn of the tide that Ernie Barnes’ “Sugar Shack” brought to @ChristiesInc marquee week. Listen below. pic.twitter.com/6Kkiy1ZkcU
— LiveArt (@artmarket) May 18, 2022
Cultural artifact for Perkins
Throughout his appearance on the podcast, Perkins, who described himself as an art “complete noob,” stated “that he became familiar with the work of Barnes “through friends that were kind of enlightening me on African American artists, and (I) sort of just started to figure out who was culturally significant.”
“I’ve been buying up these works by Barnes, and I felt like I was robbing, like I was looting the art world by scooping up crucial pieces of American art at what I’d regard as a relative bargain.”
Perkins maintained this train of thought:
“The world of art has a prejudice against American art. The world has a bias against African American art and African American narratives, even though they are vital components of the American experience. And as a result, I’ve been able to profit from that because it enables me to purchase works on essentially a free basis compared to their worth in terms of both history and culture.”
Nevertheless, whether or not Perkins got a fair bargain on the famous artwork, it is inevitable that the affluent trader and poker fan, who has $4.4 million in poker tournament profits will still be able to afford his next meal.
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