Lot 2
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BARKLEY L. HENDRICKS | North Philly Niggah (William Corbett)

1,200,000 - 1,800,000 USD
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  • Barkley L. Hendricks
  • North Philly Niggah (William Corbett)
  • signed; signed, titled, and dated 1975 on the overlap
  • oil and acrylic on canvas
  • 72 by 48 in. 182.9 by 121.9 cm.


The artist
Acquired by the present owner from the above in May 2007


New York, ACA Galleries, Barkley Hendricks Exhibition of Paintings, April - May 1976
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art, November 1994 - March 1995, p. 42 (text), p. 212 (text)
Durham, Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University; New York, Studio Museum in Harlem; Santa Monica, Santa Monica Museum of Art; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; and Houston, Contemporary Arts Museum, Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of the Cool, February 2008 - April 2010, p. 8, no. 26, illustrated in color


Christian Haye, "Myth and Man," Frieze, January 6, 1995, p. 25 (text)
Kobena Mercer, ed., Pop Art and Vernacular Cultures, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2007, p. 30 (text) and illustrated in color on the front cover
Ann Landi, "Hip Off the Old Block," ARTnews, June 2008, p. 98 (text)
Michael Slenske, "Outside the Box," Art + Auction, September 2015, p. 71, illustrated in color (in installation)
Antwaun Sargent, "Barkley L. Hendricks Painted Black People As We Are," Vice, April 24, 2017 (text) (online)

Catalogue Note

Barkley Hendricks’s honest and mesmerizing depictions of cool, stylish and self-aware black subjects revolutionized the canonical practice of portraiture in late 20th century American art. The artist’s widely celebrated portraits, mostly produced between the late 1960s and the early 1980s, liberate the black body from a white-centered gaze, gifting Hendricks’s everyday subjects with an unprecedented degree of regality, autonomy and self-assertiveness.  Created in 1975, North Philly Niggah (William Corbett), one of Hendricks’s rare large portraits from his most renowned period, distills the quintessence of the artist’s poetic postmodern practice. The painting’s lush color palette, dominated by tonal variations in peach but punctuated by the central figure’s magenta cotton shirt and radiant brown skin, showcases Hendricks’s elevated attention to color, in particular, his hyperawareness of color’s ability to induce a spectrum of moods and emotions in the viewer. The statuesque subject, exaggeratedly lengthened and emanating subtly from the monochromatic background, stares at the viewer with a bold yet unassuming gaze, commanding an effortlessly captivating aura. The subject's effortless grace imbues the painting with tremendous presence and gravitas - humanized by the one shirt collar that peeks out from the lushly rendered fur lapels. Remarking on Hendricks’s artistic ingenuity, art critic Janet Koplos notes: “…Hendricks tweaks his format and pushes his colors, so the portraits all have punch. One responds to color, to pose, to costume, to facial expression. The works seem intensely considered.” (Janet Koplos, “Flashback,” Art in America, February 24, 2009) Moreover, Hendricks’s photorealist style, derived from his tightly rendered brushstrokes, imbues the canvas with a velvety smoothness, cleverly mirroring the textured furred lapels and the shimmering folds on the subject’s chic overcoat. In addition to these vivid stylistic attributes, North Philly Niggah (William Corbett) reinvigorates the Victorian legacy of dandyism with a relevant, contemporary spirit, thus, expanding and reimagining the possibilities of black male expression.  For most of his career, Hendricks painted real ordinary people that existed in his community including “family, friends, associates, students, and local characters from the neighborhood.” (Trevor Schoonmaker quoted in: Genevieve Hyacinthe, “Love is the Message: Barkley Hendricks’s MFSB Portrait Aesthetics,” Open Cultural Studies, 2017, p. 615) For example, in the present work, Hendricks dressed up his neighborhood companion, William Corbett, in the illustrated fur-trimmed camel coat. The artist’s decision to depict black figures stemmed from his frustration at their lack of representation in museum collections. Although repeatedly expressing great admiration for Old Master painters such as Rembrandt, Caravaggio and Dürer, Hendricks longed to represent individuals he personally knew with an elevated sense of dignity and heroicism reserved for stately portraits hung on museum walls. Colescing his knowledge of art history with his direct engagement in black popular culture, Hendricks forged a distinct style of his own, ambiguously positioned between the provocative playfulness of Pop Art, the critical gravitas of Conceptual art and the incandescent grandeur of Baroque-style portraiture. As Thelma Golden, the Director of the Studio Museum in Harlem, states, Hendricks’s portraits are “period pieces that represent a hybrid of black cultural consciousness and contemporary art practice.” (Thelma Golden quoted in: Ibid., p. 607) Therefore, Hendricks’s portraits can be interpreted as intimate cultural artifacts; personal visual documentations that reflect a broader transformation of black subjectivity during these volatile post-Civil Rights decades.

Hendricks’s North Philly Niggah (William Corbett) perfectly embodies the artist’s nuanced handling of the culturally complex black body. The work remained in Hendricks’s personal collection until 2008 when it was exhibited at his first solo retrospective, Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of the Cool, curated by Trevor Schoonmaker at the Nasher Museum of Art. The present work also featured prominently in Thelma Golden’s seminal 1994 exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art. Indisputably original and formally sophisticated, Hendricks’s painterly musings on identity and representation directly influenced a new generation of noteworthy artists to pursue similar themes, among them Kehinde Wiley, Mickalene Thomas, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and Rashid Johnson. 

Furthermore, despite the socio-political context that engendered Hendricks’s iconic portraits, the artist often pushed back on the public’s tendency to over-politicize his work, once stating: “Anything a black person does in terms of the figure is put into a “political” category … I paint because I like to paint.” (Barkley Hendricks quoted in Karen Rosenberg, “Barkley L. Hendricks on Why You Shouldn't Call Him a Political Artist,” Artspace, March 15, 2016) Indeed, Hendricks’s technical brilliance is not to be overlooked. The artist’s dexterous manipulation of paint, highly evident in the dazzling tonal complexity of North Philly Niggah (William Corbett), establishes the notion that beauty, although culturally specific, possesses a universality that transcends race.