Dawoud Bey - Photographs New York Wednesday, October 11, 2023 | Phillips

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  • “That is the space I imagined the fugitive black subjects moving through as they sought their self-liberation, moving through the dark landscape of America and Ohio toward freedom under cover of a munificent and blessed blackness.”
    —Dawoud Bey

    This evocative study of Lake Erie enshrouded by darkness is from Dawoud Bey’s 2017 series, Night Coming Tenderly, Black, commissioned by FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Art, headed by Fred Bidwell. Shot exclusively in Cleveland and Hudson, Ohio, Bey’s series recreates the experience of fugitive slaves as they made their way along the Underground Railroad to freedom in Canada prior to the Civil War. Lake Erie would have been the last obstacle that many escaped slaves encountered. Bey’s series is impressionistic, in that he did not seek to document specific sites along the Railroad’s route but, rather, capture the feeling of the landscape they would encounter.  Bey notes that ‘the exact movement of fugitive slaves across the American landscape had—for reasons of their very survival—to remain secret. This mystery allowed me the conceptual space to reimagine what that movement might have been, how it might have looked and felt.’


    Bey took his title from Langston Hughes’s poem, Dream Variations: ‘Night coming tenderly / Black like me.’ In addition to Hughes, Bey also took inspiration from the photographer Roy DeCarava. DeCarava was a master of creating images in which black tonal values predominate, and his technically perfect prints provided a high standard that Bey successfully attained. He rendered this series in gelatin silver prints, a process he hadn’t worked with since earlier in his career, but one that allowed him to capture the tonal depth his vision required. 


    Other prints of Untitled #25 (Lake Erie and Sky) are in the collections of the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.


    The remarkable group of photographs comprising Lots 161 through 200 in this auction come from the collection of Fred and Laura Bidwell, collectors, philanthropists, and founders of the Transformer Station, the renowned exhibition space for contemporary photography and art in the Hingetown neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio. The Bidwells’ collection presents a truly enlightened selection of work, ranging from classic practitioners such as Lee Friedlander and Stephen Shore to photographers working at the very cutting edge of today’s artistic practice, such as Kehinde Wiley, Zanele Muholi, and Hank Willis Thomas, among many others. Themes of identity and self-representation course through these works. An inquiry into the intrinsic nature of photography is another through-line, with artists as conceptually diverse as Alison Rossiter, Matthew Brandt, and Christopher Williams pushing the boundaries of the medium to deepen our understanding of it. Central to the collection is Hiroshi Sugimoto’s masterful Lightning Fields 128 (lot 169), which is emblematic of the creative spark underlying Bidwells’ progressive conception of photography.


    Driven by a passion for photography and a desire to make their collection accessible to the public, the Bidwells renovated a former Cleveland Railway Company transformer substation into a state-of-the-art exhibition venue. Boasting 3,500 square feet of exhibition space, the Transformer Station became a vital part of the city’s artistic community, hosting exhibitions drawn from the Bidwells’ collection, exhibitions curated by the Cleveland Museum of Art, as well as performances and talks. Earlier this year, the Bidwells gifted Transformer Station to the Cleveland Museum of Art which will continue to use this unique space. 


    Proceeds from the sale of these works will support the Bidwells’ active philanthropic endeavors. 




    Read More about High Voltage → 

    • Provenance

      Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco

    • Literature

      Bey, Night Coming Tenderly, Black, pl. 8

High Voltage: Contemporary Photographs from the Collection of Fred and Laura Bidwell


Untitled #25 (Lake Erie and Sky) from Night Coming Tenderly, Black

Gelatin silver print, flush-mounted.
43 5/8 x 54 1/4 in. (110.8 x 137.8 cm)
Overall 48 1/4 x 59 1/4 in. (122.6 x 150.5 cm)

Signed in ink, printed title, date, and number 3/6 on a gallery label accompanying the work.

Full Cataloguing

$20,000 - 30,000 

Sold for $50,800

Contact Specialist

Sarah Krueger
Head of Department, Photographs


Vanessa Hallett
Worldwide Head of Photographs and Chairwoman, Americas


New York Auction 11 October 2023