Charles White Artnet Op-Ed

One of the key points that Barbara Jones-Hogu made in her 1973 manifesto for the influential group that went by the unforgettable name African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists Work (or AFRI-COBRA for short) was that black artists should ensure that their work was accessible to their audiences. She didn’t just mean what artists drew, printed, painted or sculpted; she also meant artists ensuring that their work, or reproductions of it, were within easy reach of the people with whom it was intended to dialogue.

Jones-Hogu stressed the importance of “modes of expression, that lend themselves to economical mass production techniques such as ‘Poster Art’ so that everyone who wants one can have one.” Jones-Hogu may well have been mindful of the strategies of audience engagement pioneered by the renowned American artist Charles White, whose work is becoming ever more celebrated, as two current exhibitions on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin—at the Blanton Museum of Art and the Christian-Green Gallery—attest.

Relatively speaking, White’s work has consistently achieved respectable prices at auction. How could they not? With his work widely reproduced in print, and featuring in so many published or exhibited histories of African American art, the chance to own a Charles White original is something many collectors are keen to do. Even so, this month’s auction at Christie’s New York of one of the artist’s lesser known works, Banner for Willie J., a 1976 oil painting, will be something of a milestone, because the work carries an estimate of between $1 million and $1.5 million.

No doubt the escalation in appreciation of White’s work, in part a consequence of his major exhibition that traveled from Chicago to New York to Los Angeles, has helped increase valuations of his originals, but we still might be tempted to think that such financial appraisals are overdue. Banner for Willie J. is a beautiful, hugely engaging work, instantly recognizable as coming from the artist’s mid-1970s period, and it’s a work that has wider stylistic similarities with Homage to Sterling Brown, produced a few years earlier. Both have a lyricism, a deep affection for the black male figure, and White’s characteristic attachment to depicting human anatomy. The price that Banner for Willie J. might realize could significantly exceed the handsome prices his work has already been achieving at auction in recent years...

The above extracts are from "A Masterful Charles White Painting Could Smash the Artist’s Auction Record, But Let’s Not Forget That He Was Devoted to Making Art for the Masses. The painting could fetch $1.5 million when it sells at Christie's New York this month", an Op-Ed by Eddie Chambers, for Artnet, published online at on November 5, 2019