Venus and Serena Williams to Auction Never-Before-Seen Ernie Barnes Works for Charity

Tennis legends Venus Williams and Serena Williams and their sister Isha Price have consigned four never-before-seen works by Ernie Barnes as part of a charity auction.

The group of consigned works consists of two paintings, Holding Court (1986) and Mentors (2008), and two drawings, Saxophone Study #1 (1993) and Study for Brother to Brother (1994). These works will be available for bidding from July 24 to August 1 on Joopiter, a digital-first auction house founded by Pharrell Williams. Mentors carries a pre-sale estimate of $120,000 to $180,000, while Holding Court‘s estimate is between $80,000 to $120,000.

The sisters acquired the works directly from the Barnes estate several years ago and have partnered with the estate for this charity auction, which will benefit the Yetunde Price Resource Center, a community-based organization they founded in 2018 in honor of their late oldest sister, Yetunde, who was “tragically killed by an act of senseless violence in 2003,” according to center’s website.

“Ernie Barnes is an iconic Black artist my family and I have long admired,” Serena Williams, who is also an avid art collector, said in a statement. “Through his vibrant imagery, he envisioned a colorful world of harmony between all communities, backgrounds, and races. These never-before-seen works of Ernie Barnes will help fund and provide vital resources to those affected by violence in Compton and underserved communities across the country.”

Recently, Venus Williams partnered with artist Adam Pendleton to host an auction via Sotheby’s and benefit at Pace Gallery to raise funds for the preservation of the childhood home of Nina Simone in North Carolina. Among the artists who donated their art for the 11-work auction were Stanley Whitney, Martin Puryear, and Cecily Brown, as well as Rashid Johnson, Ellen Gallagher, and Julie Mehretu, the latter three of whom had purchased the home, now a National Treasure, with Pendleton in 2017.

In a statement about the Barnes auction with Joopiter, Venus Williams said, “This collaboration allows us to share our deep love of art in a way that enriches and empowers the broader community. Ernie Barnes’ artwork played a profound role in creating societal change, and we hope this partnership will similarly inspire, uplift, and make a lasting difference in the lives of individuals and the communities we serve.”

A painting showing five men with elongated bodies huddled in a circle in front of several other men who are kneeling in the background.
Ernie Barnes, Mentor, 2008.COURTESY JOOPITER

Long recognized for his tantalizing canvases in which scenes of Black people in moments of joy and leisure pulse with energy, Barnes, who died in 2009, has had a resurgence of interest in his work in the past several years. In 2019, the California African American Museum in Los Angeles mounted a retrospective of his work, which was preceded by a survey focusing on his roots in North Carolina by the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh in 2018.

These showings were followed by two exhibitions at the UTA Artist Space in Beverly Hills: a 2020 exhibition, titled “Liberating Humanity From Within,” that the artist had conceived prior to his death and a 2023 show titled “Where Music and Soul Live” featuring rarely exhibited works.

The showings at UTA Artist Space bookended the highest point for this recent revival of Barnes’s work. In 2022, during the May auctions in New York, Christie’s offered his iconic 1976 painting Sugar Shack, which had appeared on the cover of a Marvin Gaye album and in the opening credits montage of the TV show Good Times, with a low estimate of $150,000. The painting stole the spotlight at that evening’s auction, selling for a record-shattering $15.3 million after a heated bidding war—or about 80 times the low estimate.

A week later, leading New York galleries Ortuzar Projects and Andrew Kreps announced that they would jointly represent the Barnes estate. The two galleries had previously mounted an exhibition together at Kreps’s Tribeca location in 2021, which had included Sugar Shack. At Frieze Los Angeles earlier this year, they again presented a joint booth dedicated to Barnes, featuring several masterpieces. In November, when Ortuzar Projects opens a new 10,000-square-foot space (next door to its current one), it will inaugurate the new gallery with a Barnes show.

In an email to ARTnews, Joopiter’s head of global sales Caitlin Donovan called Barnes “one of the most culturally significant artists of the 20th century” and said that “Ernie Barnes’ dedication and focus on social justice, racial equity, depiction of women, and community parallel the values and commitment to community we see from the YPRC.”

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