Nearly $6 Million Was Just Raised to Help Preserve Nina Simone’s Childhood Home, Thanks to Venus Williams and Adam Pendleton

An online sale co-curated by the tennis star and the artist featured works by 11 high-profile artists.

Venus Williams co-hosting the Nina Simone Childhood Home Benefit Gala, Hosted by Pace Gallery at 510 and 540 West 25th Street in New York on May 20. Photography © BFA

When the artist Adam Pendleton first heard in 2016 that musician Nina Simone’s childhood home in Tryon, North Carolina, where she first learned to play piano, was hitting the market ahead of demolition, he knew he had to save it. The contemporary artist recruited Julie Mehretu, Ellen Gallagher, and Rashid Johnson to form a four-person LLC to purchase the property for $95,000.

This week, their efforts were helped along through a partnership between the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund and Pace gallery, which hosted a gala and auction that raised nearly $6 million to preserve Simone’s legacy.

“We didn’t even know what we were embarking on,” Pendleton recalled of his purchase of the property, during this Saturday’s gala dinner held at Pace Chelsea, where the works on sale in the charity auction have been on view. “What we did know was the power of Nina Simone’s music, the power of an artistic legacy, the power of defining actively as an artist, as a musician, as a citizen, what America is, and what America can be.”

Adam Pendleton among the works for sale in the charity auction at Pace on May 17, 2023. Photo by Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images.

Chef JJ Johnson made dinner for the evening, and Grammy Award–winning musician H.E.R. performed Simone’s “Four Women,” which traces Black history through four imagined characters. The gala event raised about half a million dollars, according to Pace.

Pendleton and Marc Glimcher began planning both the party and sale back in 2019, the their efforts were obviously postponed by the pandemic. Meanwhile, tennis star Venus Williams joined Pendleton in selecting 11 artworks for the auction, which Pace helped facilitate on Sotheby’s online platform, featuring contributions from the four artists involved in the project as well as other artists such as Stanley Whitney and Anicka Yi.

The works all tie back to Simone, either through their titles or by honoring her impact more indirectly. “Each of the artists Adam and I have selected for the auction has a unique, powerful voice,” Williams told interviewers as the sale neared.

The sale’s highest flying lot: Cecily Brown, Runaway, 2021. © Cecily Brown. Courtesy: Cecily Brown and Paula Cooper Gallery. Photo: Genevieve Hanson

The online auction opened for bids starting May 12, and closed today. By 2pm, an hour before concluding, two of the lots, including Ellen Gallagher’s print Abu Simbel (2005), a sci-fi inflected depiction of the ancient Egyptian site, were still awaiting their first bids. Meanwhile paintings by Cecily Brown and Sarah Sze had outdone their upper estimates of $260,000 and $480,000 respectively, both selling for $900,000 each. And even Julie Mehretu’s New Dawn, Sing (for Nina) (2023) shattered its $1.2 million estimate, fetching $1.6 million. In the end, the auction garnered $5.38 million in total for the cause.

Paired with this weekend’s gala, sales totaled $6 million, which will ensure Simone’s childhood home can remain standing. The site may even one day serve as a cultural hub for creatives across generations. So far, representatives from Pace said, Pendleton’s collective has already partnered with numerous groups to help stabilize the Appalachian home’s exterior. Construction should resume this fall, as the home transforms into a multicultural ode to Simone’s enduring impact.

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