On Monday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that the city had consigned Kerry James Marshall’s painting Knowledge and Wonder (1995) to Christie’s, where it is expected to bring in between $10 million and $15 million on November 15. The city’s consignment follows the May sale of Marshall’s Past Times (1997), which was estimated to sell for a lower $8 million—$12 million and quadrupled the artist’s previous auction record when it was snapped up by Sean “Diddy” Combs at Sotheby’s for a cool $21.1 million.
Past Times had been consigned by Chicago’s Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which originally commissioned it for $25,000 in 1997. Knowledge and Wonder was originally commissioned for a public library branch at a cost of $10,000 in 1995. It will earn Chicago a staggering 99,990 percent return if it sells at the low estimate, Bloomberg’s Katya Kazakina points out.
The 10-foot-tall and 23-foot-long painting is part of Marshall’s celebrated “Garden Project” series, which was one of the centerpieces of his 2016–17 retrospective, “Mastry.” Proceeds from the sale will support the expansion of the Legler Library branch, where it has hung since 1995, and a fund to commission and acquire public art in underserved communities.
Mayor Emanuel framed the consignment as a win-win in a statement:
Kerry James Marshall is helping not only to write the next chapter in the history of Chicago Public Library, his work will go directly towards supporting the West Side of Chicago. With this investment, Legler will become a vital community anchor for families to gather, students to get homework help and job-seekers to connect with life-changing opportunities.
But at least one voice, Laurence Msall, the president of Chicago’s Civic Federation, has risen in opposition to the sale of the public artwork. Msall told the Sun-Times:
This is, at best, a one-time asset sale. If the decision is made to take this community asset out of the neighborhood, the money should be for longer-term investments—not operating expenses. We paid increased taxes in the cost of these public buildings to establish art and cultural installations that will enhance the experience. Now, just because the investment has a market value, the decision to take that out of the community is one that should be carefully considered.