Photo by: CBS via Getty Images
“The Sugar Shack,” a dance-hall mural made famous by its appearance in the credits of 1970s television series Good Times, fetched a record-breaking $15.2 million at auction last week.
Ernie Barnes, a former NFL player, painted the classic piece in 1976. Barnes’ painting depicts joyful Black dancers in a club that was also displayed in the Evans family apartment during the fifth and sixth seasons of the TV comedy.
Other paintings by the NFL great-turned-artist, who appeared on the show as a guest star, were periodically utilized in the series and credited to J.J. Evans, the character played by Jimmie Walker.
Marvin Gaye’s hit single “I Want You” also featured the Sugar Shack painting as the song’s cover.
When he was discovered to be the highest bidder, Houston-based energy trader Bill Perkins tweeted, “My life has so far been a happy absurdity…”
According to Artnet, Perkins, who owns artwork by Barnes and other notable Black painters such as Charles White and John T. Biggers, flew to New York for the auction and seemed happy with his new piece’s affordability.
“I’m walking away with the treasure while everybody is fighting over a Warhol or a Monet,” he told Artnet.
According to Christie’s auction house, the sale shattered Barnes’ previous auction record by more than 27 times the artist’s prior high estimate of $200,000. Before Perkins, there were 22 bidders.
After the auction, Perkins told The New York Times, “I would have paid a lot more.” “For certain segments of America, it’s more famous than the Mona Lisa.”
The “Sugar Shack,” which depicts a dance hall packed with vibrantly drawn Black dancers who are extended as they move to the rhythms of an R&B band, was inspired by Barnes’ memories of his native hometown in North Carolina and painted in the Black Romantic style.
Gaye was so taken with the photograph that he asked for permission to use it as the cover of his 1976 album.
Perkins explained, “You never saw paintings of Black people by Black artists.”
He added, “This introduced not just me but all of America to Barnes’ work. It’s the only artwork that has ever done that. And these were firsts. So this is never going to happen again. Ever. The cultural importance of this piece is just crazy.”
Ernie Barnes died of myeloid leukemia on April 27, 2009 at a Los Angeles hospital.
How many times have you seen this painting? What a beautiful thing to see the unexpected star of the auction be such a beautiful and vibrant celebration of Black joy!
Share your thoughts of this culture classic scoring big dollars below!