“The Sugar Shack,” the dance hall painting made famous for appearing in the credits of the 1970s sitcom “Good Times,” sold at auction on Thursday for a record $15.2 million.
Ernie Barnes’ 1976 acrylic-on-canvas piece showing jubilant black dancers in a club was also featured in Evans’ family apartment during the television comedy’s fifth and sixth seasons and was used as the cover of the single to Marvin Gaye’s hit “I Want You”. “Other works by the NFL star-turned-artist, who starred on the show, have sometimes been used on the show and sometimes credited to JJ Evans, the famous character played by Jimmie Walker.
The iconic painting sold in New York for 76 times its estimate of $150,000 to $200,000, according to international auction house Christie’s. “The Sugar Shack” marked the first appearance of Barnes’ work at an evening sale and attracted 22 bidders. It was quickly sold to energy trader and poker player Bill Perkins just 10.5 minutes after the auction started.
“My life so far has been happy nonsense…..” Houston-based Perkins tweeted Friday, when it turned out to be the highest bidder.
The collector, who owns several works by Barnes and other prominent black artists such as Charles White and John T. Biggers, flew to New York for the auction and also seemed pleased with the affordability of his new room, according to clean art.
“I’m leaving with the treasure while everyone is fighting for a Warhol or a Monet,” the producer told the site.
Indeed, the same evening auction that saw the sale of “The Sugar Shack” also made headlines for the sale of 12 lots from the Anne H. Bass Collection, which included the famous sculpture 1800s ballerina by Edgar Degas”Fourteen Year Old Dancer” (“Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen”), which sold for $41.6 million and broke the artist’s record for the first time in nearly 15 years, Christie’s said. Claude Monet’s ‘Parliament’, the top lot in the sale, sold for $75.9 million that night.
In 2019, the California African American Museum dedicated a retrospective to the late American artist Barnes, who died in 2009. He painted “The Sugar Shack” from a childhood memory – sneaking into the Durham Armory, a location in North Carolina. North which hosted segregated dances and which still exists. Barnes once said it was “the first time my innocence encountered the sins of dancing”.
“This image has been in my consciousness since I was a child. I have an emotional connection to her,” Perkins told Artnet, adding, “If I did a survey and put a picture of the Mona Lisa and a picture of the sugar shack side by side, in my group of African Americans, they’ll remember The Sugar Shack more than anything else.
“We were thrilled to see such phenomenal performances from an incredibly diverse group of 20th Century artists at our sale tonight,” Emily Kaplan, co-manager of the 20th Century Evening Sale, said in a communicated to The Times.
“We featured works by nine female artists representing a range of artistic periods, two of whom set records – Grace Hartigan and Howardena Pindell. We were also delighted with the outstanding performance of Ernie Barnes. The Sugar Shack surpassed its high estimate of $200,000 to sell for $15.2 million, nearly 28 times its previous auction record.