Discovered After 70, Adosa Artists Shine
McArthur Binion had been creating art almost completely under the radar for four decades, handling his own occasional sales and raising two children in Chicago on a teaching salary.
Now Mr. Binion has been fully embraced by the mainstream art world — at age 72. His dealer is a prominent Chelsea gallery. Museums and international collectors are snapping up his large canvases, minimalist grids painted in oil stick over collages of personal documents.
With his work selling for up to $450,000, he can now travel first class and easily afford his daughter’s Brown University tuition. “I’m totally ready for it,” Mr. Binion said of the acclaim.
Mr. Binion belongs to a generation of African-American artists in their 70s and 80s who are enjoying a market renaissance after decades of indifference. Museums are mounting popular exhibitions of their work and their names, in some cases, are worth millions on the auction block.
Howardena Pindell arrived in New York in 1967 to a cool reception;
her abstract art was frowned upon by both white and black members of the art community.
Ms. Pindell’s breakthrough came in 2014, when she signed with Garth Greenan, a Chelsea gallerist; since then a survey of her work has appeared at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and is now on view at Brandeis University’s Rose Art Museum.
But as a black abstract artist, Ms. Pindell found an inhospitable reception in New York after graduating from Yale in 1967. She was bucking the widespread expectation that African-American artists should create work about social issues.
“The kind of elation I may have had back 30 years, I’m past that point,” said Howardena Pindell, who at 75 uses a walker and can no longer crawl up a ladder to execute her paintings, often collaged with hundreds of paper dots covered in layers of acrylic, dye, sequins, glitter and powder.
Like other artists of color discovered later in life, hers is a different kind of contentment: “It’s a more a sense of feeling protected and safe in terms of the vicissitudes of the art world.”
It’s About Time’
Recent traveling exhibitions such as “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power,” which opened Saturday at the Broad in Los Angeles, have illuminated the pantheon of black artists working in the 1960s and 70s. “There has been a whole parallel universe that existed that people had not tapped into,” said Valerie Cassel Oliver, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond.
Shattering the $2 million threshold, new auction highs were set last year for Sam Gilliam, 85, as well as Barkley Hendricks and Jack Whitten, both recently deceased. They built on the success of younger African-American artists such as Kerry James Marshall, 63, who recently broke $21 million at auction.