Norman Lewis, Untitled, oil on canvas, circa 1957. Courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

 

African-American artists who have lately been in the spotlight will have works on offer Oct. 3 at New York's Swann Auction Galleries. "Point of Departure: Postwar African-American Fine Art" includes traditional figurative and socially inflected work as well as geometric abstraction by midcentury artists, as well as a range of contemporary works. The 149 works in the sale are expected to bring as much as $2.3 million.

The priciest item, estimated at $250,000-$350,000, is an untitled abstract painting by Norman Lewis (1909-1979) from 1957 that measures about 4 by 5 feet. The painting shows dozens of abstracted figures arranged against a rich blue ground.

"These small, dancing, calligraphic figures make Lewis's paintings highly desirable, and we've never seen a painting this large from the '50s with such a concentration of them," department head Nigel Freeman said, speaking with A.i.A. by phone last week.

The work has never been publicly exhibited. "This painting was not known until we were contacted by the owners," Freeman said. "It was sold out of his studio to a close friend who had taken art lessons with him, we think shortly after it was made in 1957."

Institutions such as the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, New York's Museum of Modern Art and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., have recently acquired canvases by the artist, said Freeman. The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts will mount the exhibition "Procession: the art of Norman Lewis" (November 2015-April 2016).

The sale also includes work from the '70s by artists including Frank Bowling, Jack Whitten and William T. Williams, who have recently seen a revival of interest in their work, Freeman said.

An 8-foot-high untitled painting in acrylic and spray paint by Bowling, Karters Choice, is expected to bring $40,000-$60,000. The 1972 work was long in the collection of Janice Karter, who bought it in the year it was made. In the painting's upper half, the outline of Australia looms over a field of black; Bowling used images of continents to allude to the international nature of abstraction, a catalogue entry points out.

"Technically Bowling is not American," Freeman said, "since he was born in British Guyana and grew up in England, but he worked extensively in New York and continues to show in New York, and in the past was included in Whitney Biennials." Bowling was among those given a solo show during the Whitney Museum's 1970s series of exhibitions focused on black American artists. Others included Melvin Edwards, Al Loving and Williams.

Williams's Chuckerbootstar Last (1972-73), a geometric abstraction in deep greens, blues and browns, is tagged at $75,000-$100,000.

"Williams had a solo show at the Whitney but hasn't had significant works at auction," Freeman said. A catalogue entry points out that this is the first significant work by the artist from after 1971 to come to a public sale.

Also included are two works on paper by Jack Whitten, the subject of current exhibitions at New York's Alexander Gray Associates (through Oct. 12) and at Brandeis University's Rose Art Museum (through Dec. 15).

Hale Woodruff, currently the subject of the show "Rising Up: Hale Woodruff's Murals at Talladega College" at New York University's 80WSE galleries, is represented by two works, one of them expected to bring as much as $90,000.

Among the artists with more recent works represented in the sale are Radcliffe Bailey, Robert Colescott, Glenn Ligon, Howardena Pindell, Xaviera Simmons, Carrie Mae Weems and Fred Wilson.