Ernie Barnes created the painting “The Sugar Shack” in the early 1970s. It gained international exposure when it was used on the Good Times television series and on a 1976 Marvin Gaye album.
On the 12th of May, the iconic painting was sold at auction in New York City for almost $15.27 million.
#AuctionUpdate Ernie Barnes ‘The Sugar Shack sets an auction record for the artist this evening, 27x the previous record set by the artist. After over 10 minutes of bidding by up to 22 bidders, the piece realized $15.275 million. pic.twitter.com/GQOH03vF0a
— Christie's (@ChristiesInc) May 13, 2022
According to Christie’s auction house, the sale set an auction record for Barnes’ work by more than 27 times the artist’s previous record, and was 76 times the high estimate of $200,000. The 10-minute auction drew 22 bidders before Houston-based energy trader Bill Perkins.
“I would have paid a lot more,” Perkins told The New York Times following the auction. “For certain segments of America, it’s more famous than the Mona Lisa.”
According to Ernie Barnes official website, he created the original version of “The Sugar Shack” after reflecting upon his childhood, during which he was not “able to go to a dance.”
Barnes said in a 2008 interview, “The Sugar Shack’ is a recall of a childhood experience. It was the first time my innocence met with the sins of dance. The painting transmits rhythm so the experience is re-created in the person viewing it. To show that African-Americans utilize rhythm as a way of resolving physical tension.”
“The Sugar Shack” has been known to art critics for embodying the style of art composition known as “Black Romantic,” which, according to Natalie Hopkinson of The Washington Post, is the “visual-art equivalent of the Chitlin’ circuit.”
When Barnes first created “The Sugar Shack,” he included his hometown radio station WSRC (Durham, NC) on a banner. He incorrectly listed the frequency as 620. It was actually 1410. Barnes confused what he used to hear WSRC’s on-air personality Norfley Whitted saying “620 on your dial” when Whitted was at his former station WDNC in the early 1950s.
After Marvin Gaye asked him for permission to use the painting as an album cover, Barnes then augmented the painting by adding references that allude to Gaye’s album, including banners hanging from the ceiling to promote the album’s singles.
During the “Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever” anniversary television special on March 25, 1983, tribute was paid to “The Sugar Shack” with a dance interpretation of the painting. It was also during this telecast that Michael Jackson introduced his famous “moonwalk” dance.
Barnes died of leukemia in 2009 at age 70.