Sugar Shack: The story behind the iconic painting Marvin Gaye used that has sold for $15.3M

Abu Mubarik May 20, 2022
Photo credit: Credit: NDZ/STAR MAX/IPx/AP

The iconic “Sugar Shack” painting by legendary artist Ernie Barnes has made a new record sale. The painting by the former professional football player turned artist sold at auction Thursday for almost $15.3 million, according to CNN. The painting features Black men and women singing and getting down at a club.

The painting was sold to Bill Perkins, a hedge fund manager and entrepreneur, after 10 minutes of bidding by more than 22 bidders, according to Christie’s auction house, CNN further reported. Christie’s also noted that the final sale price for “The Sugar Shack” was 27 times higher than the most expensive Barnes work sold before it, adding that it “blew past its estimated sale price of $150,000 to $200,000.”

“This image has been in my consciousness since I was a kid. I have an emotional connection to it,” 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, in my group of African Americans, they’re going to remember The Sugar Shack more than anything else.

Barnes was born in North Carolina in 1938 and grew up in the American South during the Jim Crow era. His experiences influenced his art. He said he was inspired to paint “The Sugar Shack” after remembering a time in his childhood when he was not able to go to a dance he wanted to go to at age 11.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Barnes sneaked into the Durham Armory, a North Carolina venue that hosted segregated dances. It was the “first time my innocence met with the sins of dance”, Barnes, who passed away in 2009, said, per the outlet.

His Sugar Shack is now very popular. The painting was featured in the opening and closing credits of Norman Lear’s hit 1970s sitcom Good Times and as Marvin Gaye’s album cover for his 1976 release I Want You. According to the Los Angeles Times, the painting was also featured in the Evans’ family apartment during the TV comedy’s fifth and sixth seasons.

Following the death of Barnes, the California African American Museum dedicated a retrospective to him in 2019. Barnes’ work appeared on other album covers including a 1984 cover for The Crusaders and B.B. King’s 2000 album “Making Love is good for you,” as stated by CNN. Many of his works were however about sporting scenes, such as football games. 

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: May 20, 2022


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