Curatorial Dynamo Destinee Ross-Sutton Just Opened a New Project Space Dedicated to Black Art in SoHo—No Flippers Allowed
A contract she first developed for Christie's is in place for all sales.
Destinee Ross-Sutton made headlines over the summer when she organized a nearly sold-out online exhibition for Christie’s titled “Say It Loud (I’m Black and Proud).” It came with a twist: every collector who bought work from the show had to sign a contract pledging not to flip the work.
Now, Ross-Sutton, a 25-year-old artist advocate, advisor, curator, and gallerist, has brought that same energy—and the same protective measures for artists—to a gallery of her own. Ross-Sutton Gallery’s inaugural show, “Black Voices: Friend of My Mind,” opened on December 19 at 155 Wooster Street in SoHo, the 8,000-square-foot former home of iconic gallerist Paula Cooper. The exhibition marks the first iteration of what Ross-Sutton described as a “nomadic gallery,” which will pop up in cities around the globe.
The inaugural show features work by up-and-coming and more established Black artists, the most notable of which is undoubtedly Amoako Boafo, the 36-year-old Ghanaian-born painter whose wild ride in the auction market over the past year provides a striking example of what happens when speculators sink their teeth into the work of a rising star.
Ross-Sutton said she has already been besieged with requests for images and other details from eager collectors. But she did not send out PDFs to anyone until Monday, when she began with a list of Black collectors, as she would like to give them priority.
“I am taking it easy as I know from the feeding frenzy with both ‘Black Voices’ in Sweden and ‘Say It Loud’ at Christie’s that it’s better to take one’s time to find the right homes for the artists and their work,” Ross-Sutton said, referencing another show she curated this past spring at CFHIL in Stockholm.
Works in the current show range in price from $1,200 for a small work by Bahamian artist Cydne Coleby to $75,000 for Vanessa German’s poignant sculpture The Embrace. The median price is between $4,000 and $8,500.
The same contract she used at Christie’s, which she has dubbed “The Ross-Sutton Agreement,” also applies here. Buyers must agree not to resell the work at auction for at least five years; if they do want to sell, they must give the artist right of first refusal; and, if they sell to someone else, they have to give 15 percent of the upside back to the artists.
The show includes 70 works in total; 40 are on view in the gallery, while the remaining 30 are in a virtual version on the Vortic Collect app.
“To be honest, every artist should demand for the gallery that they are working with to make this investment,” she said of a quality online component. “Artists don’t make art in order to just sell a product without it being seen and by as many people as possible. Today, we have access to technologies that we didn’t have before—we must take advantage of it.”
The show aims to counter imagery of Black suffering, oppression, and hardship with images of Black people engaging in rest, wellness, self-love, and introspection. “In the many instances where others attempt to deny us simple pleasures, we are encouraged to deny ourselves,” Ross-Sutton said in a statement about the show.
The 31 artists are a mix of the names shown in Sweden, like Jon Key, Debra Cartwright, Tiff Massey, and Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe, and some that were included in the Christie’s show, such as Khari Turner, Wonder Buhle, Eniwaye Oluwaseyi, and Nelson Makamo. Collins Obijiaku is the only artist included in both of the previous shows.
Ross-Sutton is planning another “Black Voices” show for November in Singapore as well as an exhibition in New York this spring of work by female-identifying artists. Though she is not in a position to have permanent physical spaces around the globe, she said, “what I can do is have popups in those cities, with or without partners.”
“BLACK VOICES: Friend of My Mind” is on view at Ross-Sutton Gallery, 155 Wooster Street in New York, December 19, 2020–January 8, 2021.
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