By Frederick H. Lowe
Not long ago Sean “Puffy” Combs was rumored to be in the market to buy the Carolina Panthers of the NFL.
But instead the music mogul and Grammy-award winner purchased the painting “Past Times” by Kerry James Marshall for $21.1 million, the highest price paid for a work by a living black artist.
The painting, which had been displayed by Metropolitan and Pier Exposition Authority, its previous owner, was sold at auction last week by Sotheby’s New York. The Metropolitan and Pier Exposition Authority owns McCormick Place in Chicago. The exposition authority purchased the painting for $25,000 in 1997 and it hung for years in the front hallway of the building’s south entrance.
Jack Shainman, James’s longtime gallerist, confirmed the purchase to Diddy in a twitter feed.
“Congratulations Kerry James Marshall for continuing to make history. And congratulations @diddy for an amazing acquisition, we are excited about your plans for the future of the painting,” Shainman wrote.
“Past Times” depicts a black family enjoying picnic at a Chicago beach while at the same time watching out for trouble. The painting is a 13-foot by 9-foot acrylic and collage on canvas.
In Marshall’s paintings, all African Americans are jet black, not different shades of black, with very white irises.
During a 2017 exhibit of his work at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Marshall, who lives in Chicago, would often show up unannounced and take museum visitors on a tour of his work.
“He just left,” a museum security guard told me when I visited the museum to see his work. “We never know when he’s coming in. He just shows up.”
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s painting “Untitled” holds the record for the amount of money paid for a single painting. It sold for $110.5 million in 2017, which is the highest price paid for any painting by an artist living for dead. Basquiat died August 12, 1988 at the age of 27.
Marshall was born in Alabama in 1955 and raised in Los Angeles near the Black Panther Party headquarters. The organization influenced his work.
“You can’t be born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1955 and grow up in South Central [Los Angeles] near the Black Panther headquarters, and not feel like you’ve got some kind of social responsibility,” he said.