Arts, News

Art that once graced Johnson Publishing Co. sold for $2.7 million at auction


Robin Harper’s portrait of Jack Johnosn

Beautiful paintings by black artists that one graced the walls of Johnson Publishing Co., former owner of Ebony and Jet magazines, were sold at auction Friday by Swann Galleries, fetching higher prices than expected.

Many of the artists’ works had been undervalued for the decades and systematically overlooked because black artists had been pushed to the margins of the art world.

Swann, which is based in New York, reported 100 percent of the 87 lots found buyers, racking up sales of $2.7 million, more than double the expected highest estimate.

Fifty-one of the 85 lots on sale set new auction records for artists, including those by Carrie Mae Weems, Richard Mayhew and Lois Mailou Jones.

The collection included sculptures, paintings and drawings that were housed in Johnson Publishing headquarters, which opened in Chicago in 1971.

Carrie Mae Weems’s photographic series Untitled, comprised of seven chromogenic prints, sold for $305,000, more than double its $150,000 high estimate.

Barbara Johnson Zuber’s Jump Rope sold for $87,000 against a high estimate of $1,500. Zuber, who died in 2019 at 93, was the first black woman to graduate with a bachelor’s degree from Yale University.

Painting “Jump Rope”

Robin Harper’s portrait of Jack Johnson, the first black man to win the world heavyweight championship, sold for $185,000, 35 times its high estimate. The painting graced the Ebony magazine’s cover in March 1978. The issue was dedicated to heavyweight champions. Harper now goes by the name Kwasi Seitu Asantu,

Richard Mayhew’s Departure sold for $233,000, three times its high estimate, and Elizabeth Catlett’s cast bronze Sister sold for $175,000. Lois Mailou Jones’s Bazar Du Quai, Port Au Prince, Haiti, sold for $75,000, a record for the artist at an auction, Swann said.

Henry Ossawa Tanner’s Moonrise by Kasbah sold for $365,000, the second highest price at auction and much higher than the $250,000 high estimate.

This auction follows one last summer in which a consortium of foundations paid $30 million for Johnson Publishing Company’s photo archives.



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