The last major auction of assets belonging to Johnson Publishing Co., which filed for bankruptcy in April, will take place in late January when 100 pieces of art that once decorated the company’s Michigan Avenue headquarters are put on the block.
One of the pieces in the collection, by artist Carrie Mae Weems, chronicles the black migration to Chicago from Southern states through a series of seven real-life images. It’s estimated to sell for $100,000 to $150,000.
“The collection represents the stature and history of Johnson Publishing,” said Nigel Freeman, director of the African-American Fine Art department at Swann Auction Galleries in New York. “And it’s never been seen before by the public.”
Other works are more affordable, such ‘Jump Rope’ — an oil painting by Barbara Johnson Zuber. It depicts a young girl doing just that and is estimated to sell for $1,000 and $1,500.
The auction will be the latest in the piecemeal sell-off of Johnson Publishing assets.
A collection of dresses and other fashion items were auctioned on Dec. 6. They had been part of a traveling fashion show the company — which published Ebony and Jet magazines and Fashion Fair cosmetics — exhibited as part of a traveling fashion show.
In July, the company’s historic photo archive fetched $30 million from a consortium of philanthropic groups that pledged to donate the trove to museums and research centers.
And in November, a group of investors that included former Johnson Publishing executive Desiree Rogers bought the cosmetics line, Fashion Fair, for $1.85 million.
“It’s an unfortunate demise of a company,” said Neville Reid, a bankruptcy attorney who’s working with the court appointed trustee who’s responsible for investigating assets, selling them, and distributing the proceeds to creditors.
“Johnson Publishing was a great, great company,” Reid Said. “I mean, I’m an African American, and Mr. John H. Johnson was a hero, he is a hero, his family are heroes. They started with very little and they made a hugely successful company.”
In 2016, Ebony and Jet were sold to Clear View Group, an equity firm in Texas. Johnson Publishing’s Michigan Avenue headquarters, the only Chicago high-rise ever designed and owned by an African American, were sold in 2017 and have since been converted into apartments.
“It’s sad, but we are getting good results and we’ll finish our job and try to get the creditors as much of what’s left as possible,” Reid said of the bankruptcy proceedings.
A total of 105 claims have been submitted in the bankruptcy case, including a number by former Johnson Publishing employees, Reid said.
Two of the major claimants are Rogers, who also served as White House social secretary under then-President Barack Obama, and former Johnson Publishing heiress Linda Johnson Rice.
Pending court approval, the net proceeds of the art sale will go to Rogers, Reid said.
Film director George Lucas and his wife, businesswoman Mellody Hobson — whose company, Capital V Holdings, issued a $12 million loan to a struggling Johnson Publishing in 2015 — have been repaid in full, Reid said.