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Kerry James Marshall painting sells for $21 million in New York auction

"Past Times," by Kerry James Marshall, acrylic and collage on canvas; 114 × 156 in. (289.6 × 396.2 cm). | Courtesy Sotheby's New York

It was purchased in 1997 by the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (reportedly for $25,000) to adorn a wall at McCormick Place South, and tonight, “Past Times,” a painting by celebrated Chicago artist Kerry James Marshall, sold at auction for $21.5 million.

The painting, auctioned at Sotheby’s in New York on behalf of the Pier Authority, was expected to fetch upwards of $12 million, according to pre-auction estimates. A statement from the famed auction house noted only four bidders competed for the painting, which propelled the selling price skyward.

Sotheby’s described the painting as “the most significant work by the renowned artist to ever come to market … the centerpiece of the highly acclaimed 2016/17 mid-career survey “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry” [featured at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art in 2016] … as well as a highlight of the 1997 Whitney Biennial where it first debuted.”

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Artist Kerry James Marshall speaks at the unveiling for his mural honoring 20 women the Garland Court facade of the Chicago Cultural Center on Monday, Dec. 4, 2017. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Marshall was born in Birmingham, Ala.,  grew up in South Central Los Angeles, and later moved to Chicago, where he now lives and works. He is widely known for large-scale paintings and murals. One of his most recent works is the 132-foot-by 100-foot mural for the Chicago Cultural Center honoring 20 prominent women who shaped the city’s arts and cultural landscape.

Marshall’s works often depicts identifiable places around Bronzeville, the South Chicago neighborhood where he has maintained a studio for 16 years, as well as those from his childhood in Los Angeles, a 2016 Sun-Times story noted. “You have to be able to demonstrate,” Marshall told the Sun-Times, “that you can make interesting artworks from anywhere and that the neighborhood that you live in or that you grew up in can be a proper structure for picture-making.”