Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel decided to pull Kerry James Marshall’s mural-sized painting Knowledge and Wonder (1995) from auction following widespread criticism of the sale. The work had been consigned to Christie’s, where it was expected to fetch between $10 million and $15 million at the auction house’s November 15th Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale in New York. The painting was commissioned in 1995 for $10,000 for the Chicago Public Library’s Legler Branch, where it hung for the last 23 years.
Emanuel told the Chicago Tribune:
I was swimming and thought, “This is not what I wanted, given the city’s contributions to public art, and Kerry’s a friend and also a great ambassador for Chicago,” I reached out to him and said, “Look, I don’t want this. If you’re not happy, I don’t want to go forward.”
The consignment came on the heels of another blockbuster Marshall that the city of Chicago sold off in May, Past Times (1997), which eclipsed its $8 million to $12 million estimate when Sean “Diddy” Combs bought it at Sotheby’s for $21.1 million. But from the moment the Knowledge and Wonder consignment was announced on October 1st, observers criticized the decision. Marshall himself even questioned the decision, saying that the city “has wrung every bit of value they could from the fruits of my labor.”
In a statement about Emanuel’s decision to pull the work, Christie’s said:
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. All parties involved are delighted that Kerry James Marshall’s Knowledge and Wonder will stay in Chicago—that had been a shared goal for the City and Christie’s throughout the sale process, and one we were actively working towards together these last weeks.
Proceeds from the sale of Knowledge and Wonder were destined to fund a renovation of the Legler Branch library and to establish a fund for acquiring and commissioning public art for underserved communities.