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Works by Black artists outstripped estimates several times over at Phillips' New York auction last night.

Amy Sherald, The Bathers (2015). Oil on canvas. Courtesy Phillips.

Amy Sherald's The Bathers (2015) sold for US $4.2 million at Phillips' Evening Sale of 20th Century & Contemporary Art last night, exceeding the presale estimate nearly 30 times over.

That sum is especially remarkable given it's only the second Sherald work to be purchased at auction. Her painting Innocent You, Innocent Me (2016) sold for $350,000 in May last year.

Vaughn Spann, Kehinde Wiley, and Mickalene Thomas, all of whom are African American, also set records at the auction, testament to the market's sudden, intense interest in Black artists. This year, The Black Lives Matter movement topped ArtReview's Power 100 list.

Mickalene Thomas, I've Been Good to Me (2013). Rhinestones, acrylic, enamel, silkscreen and oil on panel. The work sold for over US $900,000, tripling its high estimate. Courtesy Phillips.

Sherald is perhaps best known for her official portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama—her first ever commission—which was revealed in 2018. The portrait is part of the United States' National Portrait Gallery exhibition Every Eye Is Upon Me: First Ladies of the United States, currently available online.

Painting her subjects' skin tones in grisaille (shades of grey typically used to suggest sculpture), Sherald makes a conscious effort to decouple colour and race in her practice.

Her portrait of Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old who was shot and killed in her Kentucky apartment by plainclothes police last March, featured on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine this year.

'I've been thinking about Breonna and my grandmother who I learned as a kid died in a hospital waiting room after haemorrhaging during childbirth,' Sherald told Artnet News in October. 'She was at a whites only hospital—the Black hospital was too far—and they turned her away.'

Born in Columbus, Georgia, in 1973, Sherald now lives in New Jersey. —[O]

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