Diddy Spends $21.1M, Most Ever Paid For Painting By Living African-American Artist

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Written by Dana Sanchez

Music mogul Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs paid $21.1 million for “Past Times,” a painting by Chicago artist Kerry James Marshall, ending speculation about who bought the record-breaking artwork at auction.

The winning bid is reported to be the most ever paid for the work of a living African-American artist, according to the New York Times.

The painting tells a story centered on black experiences, and it’s a monumental work, the Times reported. The acrylic and collage on canvas measures 9 feet 6 inches by 13 feet.

The Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which owns Chicago’s McCormick Place, paid $25,000 in 1997 to acquire the painting. Millions of visitors passed the painting where it hung for decades by the main entrance to the South Building of the largest convention center in North America.

“I know that this work has found a home in a collection with purpose and an eye toward preserving legacy — that of Sean Combs, and that means a lot,” said Jack Shainman, who has represented the artist, Marshall, since his first gallery show in 1993.

African American artists
“Past Times,” a painting by Kerry James Marshall, sold for $21.1 million on Wednesday to the music mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs. Credit: Sotheby’s

The painting was sold Wednesday at Sotheby’s. The dealer said Combs was introduced to the painter’s work by recording artist and record producer Swizz Beatz, also an avid art collector with his wife, Alicia Keys.

Marshall is a rising star in the museum world and a local hero in Chicago, the Times reported.

Until February 2017, the most expensive auction sale for a living African American artist was David Hammons’ basketball chandelier, which sold for more than $8 million (including fees) in 2013, according to Artnet. Hammons ranked No. 10 in the Top 10 Most Expensive Living American Artists of 2016.

No. 1 on the same list was  Jeff Koons, who sold “Balloon dog (Orange)” in 2013 at Christie’s New York for $58.4 million.

David Hammons Untitled (2000) sold in 2013 at Phillips New York for $8 million.

Work by under-recognized living African American artists is attracting newfound interest among collectors, according to Culture Type, a platform that explores art by and about people of African descent including conducting original research and reporting.

In early 2017, Culture Type assessed the state of art by black artists, reporting record sales and multi-million dollar prices.

Culture Type ranked the most expensive art pieces at auction among living African American artists for the top 25 lots from 2014-2016 — the highest price achieved by each artist during the period.

The prices listed below may not represent an artist record —  artists may have sold a more expensive work in previous or subsequent years. Kerry James Marshall ranked No. 7 on this list.

“Despite the new benchmarks, this sector of the market arguably remains undervalued,” Victoria L. Valentine wrote for Culture Type.

The results, listed below, underscore how significant the $21.1 million price was for “Past Times,” by Kerry James Marshall:

1. Mark Bradford, “Constitution IV,” 2013
Sold for $5,848,796 (including fees) on Oct. 14, 2015 at Phillips London

chris-ofili-holy virgin mary
2. Chris Ofili, “The Holy Virgin Mary,” 1996
Sold for $4,522,643 (including fees) on June 30, 2015 at Christie’s London

i was somebody - detail

3. Glenn Ligon, “Untitled (I Was Somebody),” 1990/2003
Sold for $3,973,000 (including fees) on Nov. 11, 2014 at Sotheby’s New York

4. David Hammons, “Untitled,” 1978
Sold for $3,525,000 (including fees) on May 12, 2014, at Christie’s New York

5. Julie Mehretu, “Looking Back to a Bright New Future,” 2003
Sold for $3,468,274 (including fees) on June 30, 2015, at Christie’s London

Hurvin Anderson - Afrosheen
6. Hurvin Anderson, “Afrosheen,” 2009
Sold for $2,246,481 (including fees) on July 1, 2014 at Christie’s London

KJM - Plunge 1992

7. Kerry James Marshall, “Plunge,” 1992
Sold for $2,165,000 (including fees) on May 10, 2016, at Christie’s New York

msrtin puryear - untitled - 19898. Martin Puryear, “Untitled,” 1989 
Sold for $1,805,000 (including fees) on May 13, 2014 at Christie’s New York

El Anatsui - Paths to the Okro Farm
9. El Anatsui, “Paths to the Okro Farm,” 2006
Sold for $1,445,000 (including fees) on May 15, 2014 at Sotheby’s New York

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10. Njideka Akunyili Crosby, “Drown,” 2012
Sold for $1,092,500 (including fees) on Nov. 17, 2016 at Sotheby’s New York

M31670-1 002
11. NORMAN LEWIS, “Untitled,” circa 1958
Sold for $965,000 (including fees) on Dec. 15, 2015 at Swann Auction Galleries, New York

lynette yiadom-boakye - knave
12. Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, “Knave,” 2011
Sold for $690,736 (including fees) on Oct. 16, 2015 at Christie’s London

Detail Delux by Ellen Gallagher

13. Ellen Gallagher, “Deluxe,” 2004-2005
Sold for $665,000 (including fees) on May 11, 2016, at Christie’s New York

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14. FAITH RINGGOLD, “Maya’s Quilt of Life,” 1989
Sold for $461,000 (including fees) on Sept. 15, 2015, at Swann Auction Galleries, New York


15. JOHN BIGGERS, Kumasi Market,” 1962
Sold for $389,000 (including fees), on Sept. 15, 2015, at Swann Auction Galleries, New York


16. OSCAR MURILLO, “Untitled,” 2012
Sold for $389,000 (including fees) on May 15, 2014, at Phillips New York

17. THEASTER GATES, “For Race Riots and Salon Gatherings,” 2011
Sold for $369,328 (including fees) on Feb. 11, 2015, at Christie’s London


18. LUCIEN SMITH, “Two Side of the Same Coin,” 2012
Sold for $369,123 (including fees) on Feb. 12, 2014, at Sotheby’s London


19. BARKLEY L. HENDRICKS, “Steve,” 1976
Sold for $365,000 (including fees) on April 2, 2015, at Swann Auction Galleries, New York


20. BARKLEY L. HENDRICKS, “Tuff Tony,” 1978
Sold for $365,000 (including fees) on Dec. 15, 2015, at Swann Auction Galleries, New York

Sam Gilliam - Empty
21. SAM GILLIAM, “Empty,” 1972
Sold for $317,000 (including fees) on Nov. 11, 2015, at Christie’s New York

22. KARA WALKER, “Untitled,” 2004
Sold for $225,000 (including fees) on Nov. 17, 2016 at Phillips New York

23. JACK WHITTEN, “Midnight Stripper,” 1973
Sold for $197,000 (including fees) on Sept. 30, 2015 at Christie’s New York

24. RASHID JOHNSON, “Born by the River,” 2011
Sold for $197,000 (including fees) on Nov. 13, 2014, at Phillips New York

25. WANGECHI MUTU, “Try Dismantling the Little Empire Inside You,” 2007
Sold for $187,500 (including fees) on Nov. 18, 2016, at Sotheby’s New York


About Dana Sanchez

Dana Sanchez was born in South Africa and is a U.S. citizen. After working in advertising, she went back to school and earned a master's degree in journalism from the University of South Florida. As a business writer, she won regional and national writing awards. As editor of a daily newspaper, she coordinated staff writers, freelancers and photographers in the fast-paced environment of daily news. Dana was an editor at Moguldom Media Group for four years, helping to build and manage a team of staff and freelance writers. She works now on Moguldom.com for Nubai Ventures. A long-distance hiker and cyclist, she writes about the business of technology.