In Antwaun Sargent’s Hyperspeed Art-World Ascent
Lumpkin and his husband Boccuzzi had built up a collection of black artists including Henry Taylor, Rashid Johnson and Jordan Casteel. When Concordia College asked Lumpkin and Boccuzzi to host an exhibition of works from the collection, they asked Sargent to organize the exhibition with their collections manager, Matt Wycoff. Around the same time, Sargent helped put together a book documenting the collection.
The market for black contemporary artists had taken off and the show was perfectly timed. In May 2018, Sean Combs bought Kerry James Marshall’s Past times for $21.1 million, breaking the record price for a living black artist. The excitement spilled over into the primary market. New works by Mark Bradford, the black abstract painter who represented the US at the 2017 Venice Biennale, have sold for up to $5 million.
As the Lumpkin show toured the country in February 2020, led by Sargent, the critical establishment began reporting more regularly on black artists, but often in ways that unsettled Sargent. The praise seemed too effusive to him now. Or, as Sargent put it, “It’s all these white critics who lie because they don’t want to be racist about how great black art is.
“All The shows are great?” holds the Everyone what seemed like a minute. “All from them. All from them? I’m sorry you called this shit terrible seven years ago because I read your review. Now are you praising it?”
Something inevitable, the galleries saw the value of having someone like Sargent on staff who not only writes about black artists but brings them into the gallery. He was already approached by some when he landed on the radar of Andrew Fabricant, who joined Gagosian as COO in 2018 and is seen by many as the successor to the 77-year-old retailer king.
“When I first met Antwaun, I could just see the star power,” says Fabricant. “I mean, the guy is tireless. He has enormous charm, he has incredible skills. He’s got his connections with artists, he’s got connections with the fashion world… Not just the creative side – there’s art dealers, there’s the whole logistical side of what we do. This is unique to my experience at Gagosian, which has not historically been the warmest or muggiest place to work.”
Eventually, he was introduced to the gallery’s founder, who began selling posters on the street in Westwood Village in the mid-1970s and is now $1 billion in sales a year. They agreed on a partnership where Sargent would put together a group show, and the names on the list were mostly artists the gallery kingpin had never heard of.
“The art world kind of realized that the situation had been really one-sided for a long time, and African-American, black artists, whatever, were kind of kept out of the game,” Gagosian told me in October. “And so my gallery, like many galleries, has been thinking about diversity. But I realized that these are some incredibly innovative and fresh artists. Antwaun didn’t get me to look at an artist where I was like, ‘Oh my goodness. Why do you find this interesting? That’s ugh. I can not.’ Most of the time it’s the other way around.”
For his Gagosian debut, Sargent proposed something far more ambitious than his previous program: Social Works, a group show of Black artists exploring performance- and installation-based practices that incorporate an aspect of community organization. Adjaye made a 60 ton freestanding sculpture (his first). Linda Goode Bryant installed a fully functional urban farm, the produce of which was bagged and pinned to the walls. Theater Gates A song for Frankie (2017–2021) contained 5,000 records from the archives of legendary Chicago house pioneer Frankie Knuckles, which were blown up for the show’s run.
And someone had to sell everything. Historically, curators have remained on the institutional side, occasionally doing one-off work for galleries, and the idea of a curator-dealer is a relatively new phenomenon. It was pretty easy for Sargent.
“Most of these artists that he brings in have a steady client base and a list of people who want those things — it’s not rocket science,” says Fabricant. “But he got into it pretty quickly. And he enjoys it not only for the interaction but also for the money.” Gagosian sees this as a natural extension for Sargent: “I wouldn’t call him a salesman or an art dealer.”
Sargent won’t disclose his salary or commission, even if the money is great, way better than $150 a piece for a Vice story. Certainly there are those who roll their eyes when Sargent curates and earns commissions. But, said Sargent, shows the effect of this trait and to sell Black artists in a commercial gallery are a crucial element of his ambition as a person of color in a position of power supporting black artists. Not every art institution shares this goal.
“Doing these shows and having esteemed curators or black curators come and do shows in your galleries and there are no works for sale – brother, that’s expensive public relationshe said. “It’s actually disrespectful to everyone involved. We’re not asking for anything special. We’re just asking for the damn opportunity to enter competitions and I think that was the reason for my decision to join the gallery because they gave me.” a real opportunity to compete and you can see what I made of it. And that’s the only thing. It doesn’t have to be like, “We fix our da-da-da…”. crap all that. We’ve lived in this country, we know what it is. Give us the opportunity to do this compete.”
At first On Thursday in October, a few days before the start of the Frieze art fair in London, Gagosian opened his first exhibition with Tyler Mitchell at his Mayfair spaces on Davies Street. Mitchell, 27, first gained widespread recognition for his editorial work for Fashion (and vanity fair), and the opening was scheduled for September in the heart of London Fashion Week, but the death of Queen Elizabeth had delayed the gallery. The show was a gamble – the first exhibition of an artist in the gallery, a photo show in a painting-crazy art market, etc. Now it had to compete with the madness of an international art fair.
I met Mitchell walking through Mayfair on his way to the show and as we approached I saw a series of diptych photos showing through the window. Unlike most of Gagosian’s other galleries, this gallery has floor-to-ceiling windows to show the majority of the show to the public, with the lights staying on until midnight. The work marked a major breakthrough for Mitchell; They draw on his history of celebrity photography, but turn his lens on young men and women to present a sort of utopian vision of American Blackness.
Behind the gallery, through an unobtrusive partition, is an office, and when I opened it I saw Sargent seated at his desk. He was wearing a brown Burberry suit – “That’s it British, Honey” – and a shirt by Grace Wales Bonner, the London-based designer and artist who exhibited at Social Works II in London. Despite being at his friend Madonna’s Marylebone mansion until five in the morning – “Oh my god, she’s got Frida Kahlo and Picasso and what kind of guy we represent that does the big breasted women, oh John Curr…‘ he didn’t seem tired in the least.
“The people are rooolling through,” he said, clipping his hat on his head two minutes into the opening. Added to this was Amy Sherald, the artist who painted the portrait of Michelle Obama, whose new work is now selling for up to $3.6 million. There was Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, whose paintings have sold for more than $1.95 million at auction, chatting with fellow British artist Anthea Hamilton. From Los Angeles came rising star Lauren Halsey, as well as Alvaro Barrington, the painter exhibiting with Sadie Coles’ London HQ, and Vienna-born London dealer Thaddaeus Ropac. Bonner stopped by, as did Simone Rochas, a fashion designer from Ireland, and Edward Enninful, the editor of British Fashion. Anna Wintour had a private tour of Mitchell the day before.