City Reverses Decision To Sell Kerry James Marshall Painting

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(Bloomberg) — A painting by Chicago-based artist Kerry James Marshall won’t be auctioned off after all, a reversal of his hometown’s controversial decision to sell the work.

Marshall’s “Knowledge and Wonder” was withdrawn from a Nov. 15 Christie’s auction by mutual agreement with the city of Chicago, Christie’s said Sunday. The work, commissioned by a local library in 1995, was estimated to sell for $10 million to $15 million. Part of the proceeds would have been used to expand the Legler Branch Library, which had housed the painting for more than two decades.

Chicago’s decision to sell the work was widely criticized, with one local publication declaring the planned auction not just wrong, but undemocratic. Marshall told ArtNews magazine that “the City of Big Shoulders has wrung every bit of value they could from the fruits of my labor.”

Almost 10 feet tall and 23 feet wide, “Knowledge and Wonder” depicts a group of black children and adults looking at images of planets, stars and molecules. A sale would have generated a windfall for the city, which paid $10,000 for the work.

“While Christie’s was highly confident in the market’s interest and enthusiasm for this masterpiece, we are also strong supporters of public art and we are pleased to see this outcome,” the company said in a statement. “All parties involved are delighted that Kerry James Marshall’s ‘Knowledge and Wonder’ will stay in Chicago.”

The painting will return to its original home at the library, said Adam Collins, director of communications for Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The city reached this decision after Emanuel spoke with Marshall.

“The intention was never for that decision to be a detraction from the city’s cultural landscape,” Collins said about the auction. “That’s why we are withdrawing the painting.”

Earlier this year, Chicago’s Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority sold Marshall’s “Past Times” painting for $21.1 million at Sotheby’s to hip-hop entrepreneur Sean Combs. It had been commissioned for $25,000 in 1997. The sale established Marshall, 63, as the most expensive living black artist at auction.

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