The iconic dance-hall painting seen in the credits of the 1970s sitcom “Good Times” recently sold at a Christie’s auction in New York City for a record-breaking $15.2 million.
Ernie Barnes’ popular 1976 acrylic-on-canvas piece known as The Sugar Shack appeared in the fifth and sixth seasons of “Good Times.” Marvin Gaye also used the painting as the cover art for his classic hit album, “I Want You.”
The hefty price tag, is 76 times the estimated worth of $150,000 to $200,000 and had 22 bidders interested. Houston-based energy trader Bill Perkins won the bid only ten minutes into the auction by Christies Auction House. Per The New York Times, the price was “more than double that of a Cézanne in the sale, and more than a Monet and a de Kooning.”
“I would have paid a lot more,” Perkins told The New York Times following the auction. “For certain segments of America, it’s more famous than the Mona Lisa.”
“My life has so far been a happy absurdity,” Perkins tweeted amid reports that he was the highest bidder of the prized painting.
The collector already owns several works by Barnes and other prominent Black artists, according to Artnet.
“I’m walking away with the treasure while everybody is fighting over a Warhol or a Monet,” he declared.
Barnes, who died in 2009, was born in North Carolina in 1938 and often drew upon his own experiences growing up in the American South during the Jim Crow era in his depictions of social moments and images of every day Black life. The painting draws from Barnes’ own memories of the Durham Armory in 1952, an iconic dance hall in segregated North Carolina. The artist snuck into the Armory as a kid, forging a memory of music and movement that would inspire the creation of The Sugar Shack.
Barnes, who died of leukemia in 2009 at age 70, said in a 2002 interview that he got the idea for his painting after reflecting on his childhood and “not being able to go to a dance I wanted to go to when I was 11.”
“This image has been in my consciousness since I was a kid,” Perkins admitted. “I have an emotional connection to it. I never thought I could own this piece. As I got in a position where I could buy it, I thought, wouldn’t it be amazing if I could own this iconic piece of American history, a very important, significant work,” Perkins said.
“If I did a survey, and I put a picture of The Mona Lisa and a picture of The Sugar Shack side by side,” Perkins contended, “in my group of African Americans, they’re going to remember The Sugar Shack more than anything else.”
The sale reflects a heightened interest in work by Black artists. Just last November, Barnes’ 1978 painting Ballroom Soul sold for $550,000, a short-lived record for the artist.