Sean Combs Revealed as the Buyer of Kerry James Marshall’s Record Breaking Painting

The $21M painting was the highest price ever paid for a work by a living African American artist at auction

The buyer of Kerry James Marshall’s painting Past Times (1997), which sold for USD$21.1 million at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction on Wednesday night, has been revealed as music mogul Sean Combs.

The monumental canvas smashed the record for the highest price ever paid for one of the artist’s works and is the largest sum ever paid for a work by a living African American artist at auction.

Announcing entrepreneur, fashionista and Grammy Award-winning record producer Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs, as the buyer to The New York Times Marshall’s gallerist Jack Shainman said: ‘I know that this work has found a home in a collection with purpose and an eye toward preserving legacy – that of Sean Combs, and that means a lot.’


Kerry James Marshall, Past Times, 1997, acrylic and collage on canvas, 2.9 x 4 m. Courtesy: © Kerry James Marshall; photo: Nathan Keay © MCA Chicago

Kerry James Marshall, Past Times, 1997, acrylic and collage on canvas, 2.9 x 4 m. Courtesy: © Kerry James Marshall; photo: Nathan Keay © MCA Chicago

The dealer said Combs, who is the subject of the recent critically acclaimed documentary, Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A Bad Boy Story (2017), was introduced to the painter’s work by friend and sometime musical collaborator, Swizz Beatz, who with his wife, Alicia Keys, also collects art.

The painting was first shown at the 1997 Whitney Biennial and featured in the artist’s recent mid-career survey, ‘Kerry James Marshall: Mastry’, organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Reviewing the show for frieze last year, author John Keene wrote:

‘Marshall is clearly steeped in Western and global pictorial traditions as well as in black aesthetics and culture, from the most refined to the popular and vernacular; his life and career have paralleled the numerous, momentous shifts in contemporary American and black history of the last half century. He successfully captures and reflects these trajectories, while also keeping a celebration of the black figure, and blackness itself, at the centre of his art.

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1955, Marshall grew up in Watts and South Central Los Angeles, graduating from Otis Art Institute, with a stop at the Studio Museum in Harlem’s prestigious residency programme along the way. He now lives, teaches and makes art in Chicago. His paintings, often described as ‘narrative’, index both his own personal history and the broader story of Black America and the diaspora through a variety of formal and representational approaches, including historical tableaux, landscape, genre painting and portraiture, as informed by everything from murals to comic strips.’

Read the review in full here

Marshall was made aware of the buyer’s identity while he was in London giving a talk at the Tate Modern this week. The museum had recently acquired one of his new paintings, Untitled (London Bridge) (2017) which has been four years in the making.

‘The world is recognizing Kerry James Marshall for the master that he is,’ Shainman said, adding ‘what Kerry is happiest doing is working in the studio.’

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