Material Culture Auction Sets Several Records For Outsider Art

Mary Tillman Smith (1904-95) Among American Artists Whose Work Breaks New Ground

July 5, 2019

With fervent buyer participation through three online bidding platforms, as well as telephone and floor bidding, Material Culture’s Straight Up: American Outsider Art Auction, held June 10, broke records as it brought to market some exceptional items in a genre of art that is heating up. A once overlooked class of art, 327 of 339 lots sold for a total of $439,575, the sale presenting opportunities for collectors at various levels.
This speciality auction was most impressive for its breadth and assortment of works by 20th-century Southern black artists, including Purvis Young, James “Son Ford” Thomas, Mary Tillman Smith, David Butler, Mose Tolliver, Nelley Mae Brown, Bessie Harvey, Jimmy Lee Suddeth, Prophet Royal Robertson, Clementine Hunter and Willie White. Other Outsider works offered included a large group by Jon Serl, as well as works by Howard Finster and B.F. Perkins.
The highest price of the day, and a world record at auction, belonged to a painting-on-metal by Mississippi-born Mary Tillman Smith, which sold for $25,000. Other works by the artist reached $15,000 and $11,875. Another record was set for artist James “Son Ford” Thomas with his skull sculpture, which brought $6,250. The sale was capped off by a large offering of unframed works on paper by self-taught Alabama artist Sybil Gibson, which were snapped up by Outsider Art collectors both new and established. All prices quoted include a 25-percent buyer’s premium.
Despite the ease of bidding long distance, several major collectors and dealers chose to travel to Material Culture’s Philadelphia gallery in order to bid in person. A number of both collectors from the South and New York City gallerists competed in the room with the internet and phone bidders. Following on the success of its May 5 sale, which set auction records for works by renowned Haitian artists Jacques-Enguerrand Gourgue and Micius Stephane, as well as by Bahamian artist Amos Ferguson, Material Culture has emerged as a venue for Outsider Art.
The next Outsider Art offering at Material Culture will be Sunday, Oct. 6, with its Fine, Folk, Outsider and Ethnographic Art Auction.
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