The Art Market Is Finally Paying Attention to Black Abstraction

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The record prices for both Lewis’s and Thomas’s works at auction were broken on consecutive nights in November 2019: Thomas on the 13th, when her radiant composition A Fantastic Sunset (1970) sold for $2.6 million at a Christie’s evening sale; Lewis on the 14th, when his 1962 painting Ritual nearly quadrupled its low estimate, selling for $2.7 million at a Sotheby’s evening sale. But prices paid for both artists’ works in private sales are significantly higher, according to Michael Rosenfeld, founder of the eponymous New York gallery, which represents the estates of both artists.

Rosenfeld has represented Thomas’s estate for some 30 years, and he acknowledged that there have been significant shifts in her market demand, as well as which of her works are the most sought after. He described Thomas’s work Azaleas (1969), which features bands of red, blue, and yellow against a white background and served as the cover of the catalogue for her retrospective at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art in Indiana in 1998. He noted that this artwork, which exemplifies Thomas’s unique use of color and contrast, was regarded as the ideal painting from the artist for decades, though now there is more interest in works created later in her career (Thomas died in 1978). “As interest has grown in Alma Thomas, we’ve seen a shift in interest to the paintings from the 1970s, which are the last years of her career as a painter,” Rosenfeld added.

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