Some may recognize the painting from “Good Times,” the 1970s sitcom about a Black Chicago family. Others who see it will think of Marvin Gaye’s 14th studio album, “I Want You”.

It’s “The Sugar Shack,” a 1976 painting by former professional soccer player Ernie Barnes. On May 12, auction house Christie’s sold it for $15.2 million – 76 times the high estimate.

Sales set a new record and marked the first time Barnes’ work has appeared on the evening sale, the company said on its website.

The company said that hedge fund manager and poker player Bill Perkins bought the piece after more than 10½ minutes of bidding.

Last November, a similar piece from Barnes, “Ballroom Soul,” sold at Christie’s from Danny and Donna Arnold’s collection for $550,000. The estimated sale price was $80,000 to $120,000. That was the record price until the purchase of Perkins, a Christie’s spokeswoman said.

The company wanted to ensure this year’s estimate was higher than before but not too high, said Emily Kaplan, co-head of 20th-century evening sales at Christie’s New York.

The “Sugar Shack” painting shows black men and women swinging, singing, and going to a club; it was estimated to sell for $150,000 to $200,000. Kaplan said the auction house had an idea it would “break through the estimates,” but they suspected it could bring in $2 million or $3 million.

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Kaplan said the company knew it was an “extremely special painting” and that they were aware of its inclusion on Marvin Gaye’s album and sitcom. The market for Barnes pieces is on the rise, she said.

The day after Perkins bought “The Sugar Shack,” Christie’s sold another Ernie Barnes piece called “Storm Dance,” a Christie’s spokesperson said. It went for $2.34 million but was estimated to sell for $100,000 to 150,000.

Barnes’ paintings have recently been recognized “in a new light,” Kaplan said, noting an exhibit at the California African American Museum featuring “The Sugar Shack” and others.

“It was part of the cultural consciousness in a way that no other Ernie Barnes painting was,” she said. “Until that point, we certainly didn’t know it would sell at the level it did. That’s extremely rare and very, very special.”

The night of the Sugar Shack purchase, Perkins posted about it on Instagram, calling it “a childhood dream come true.” He told a social media user on Twitter that he plans to put it in his home.

According to Kaplan, the auction house has day and evening sales online. Day and online sales typically have higher volume but lower value, while their highest-value works are usually sold during evening sales.

Marvin Gaye’s album and “Good Times” added to the value of “Sugar Shack”.

“It is certainly safe to say that this has contributed to the cultural recognition and resonance of this image,” she said.

Kaplan said the sale included a diverse lineup of artists, including Claude Monet. She did her best to have more female artists and artists of color because older, white artists long overlooked them. There was resistance, she said, to include them in the canon of art history.

“The fact that we included this with such a great price was a real validation. The market is strong for an artwork by colored artists. That was important for me and shone a light on incredible and underrated artists.”

Saleen Martin is a reporter for USA TODAY’s NOW team. She is from Norfolk, Virginia, and loves horror, witches, Christmas, and food.

Saleen Martin, [email protected], Twitter: @Saleen_Martin


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