Nina Chanel Abney - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Tuesday, November 30, 2021 | Phillips
  • “I like to drop the bomb. Start the conversation, then leave the room.” 
    — Nina Chanel Abney

    Born in Illinois in 1982, New Jersey-based artist Nina Chanel Abney is celebrated for her striking, distinctive artwork that explores the complex social dynamics of contemporary urban life. As the first painting by Abney to be offered at auction in Asia, Untitled (IXI Black) is an incredibly arresting work from her oeuvre that featured as part of her first ever museum solo exhibition, Nina Chanel Abney: Royal Flush. A major 10-year survey of her practice, it premiered at the Nasher Museum of Art in North Carolina in 2017, before later traveling to the Chicago Cultural Centre and then onto Los Angeles, where it was jointly presented by the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and the California African American Museum in 2018-2019.

  • Rocketing to Worldwide Acclaim


    Although Abney was brought up in a creative environment surrounded by self-taught jazz musicians and watching her mother paint as a hobby, it was not until she was older that she found her passion for art. This changed in 2005, when Abney moved to New York City to attend the Master of Fine Arts programme at the esteemed Parsons School of Design. For her thesis show held two years later, she presented Class of 2007, a two-panel artwork measuring 3 metres tall and close to 4.5 metres long. In direct contrast to her experiences as the only Black student in the programme, the monumental painting depicted all of Abney’s classmates as Black inmates and herself as a white prison guard, with the concept arising from wanting to evoke uncomfortable yet current conversations with artful tact.


    Packed to the brim with a multitude of conflicting themes in a manner Abney has since called ‘information overload’ ii , whilst the painting marked the beginning of what has since become her signature style, Abney has admitted it did not come into its full realisation until the time the present work was created, explaining: ‘By the time I had the Nasher show, I could feel this evolution of my work that felt reflective of my interests—graffiti, abstraction, and figuration. I felt like I was coming to a point of culmination of what’s actually me.’ i



    Nina Chanel Abney, Class of 2007, 2007

    The Rubell Family Collection, Miami



    And yet, it only took seeing this one work (Class of 2007) for gallery owner Marc Wheby and his wife Susan Kravets to sign Abney for a show at their Chelsea gallery and within days of the exhibition opening, everything sold. Along with several other of Abney’s paintings, Class of 2007 was later included in the travelling group exhibition of works from the Rubell Family Collection titled ’30 Americans’, which premiered in Miami in 2008.  Presenting works from ‘the most important African American artists of the last three decades’, Abney was the youngest to be included along the likes of Kara Walker, Mickalene Thomas, Kehinde Wiley, and Jean-Michel Basquiat - an artist to whom she is frequently compared.




    Mickalene Thomas, Looking Up (She Works Hard For The Money Pin-Up Series), 2004

    Lot 52 – Phillips Hong Kong in Association with Poly Auction Evening Sale, 30 November 2021

    Estimate HK$ 1,000,000 - 2,000,000 / US$ 128,000 - 256,000
    © 2021 Mickalene Thomas / ARS, NY



    Untitled (IXI Black)


    “I personally find the artwork that I am mostly drawn to is work that keeps you guessing and keeps you coming back for more. I enjoy work that doesn’t give me a definite answer, but challenges me answer my own questions.” 
    — Nina Chanel Abney 


    Graphically rendered in vibrant hues of blue, red and green, set against a background of canary yellow, Untitled (IXI Black) presents the viewer with two figures surrounded by a frenetic array of text and symbols that beg to be decoded, reflecting the inspiration she finds in the chaotic daily stimuli of our world today. Whilst her stacked, rhythmic abstract shapes allude to the pop-cubist styles of modernist painters Stuart Davis and Henri Matisse, she uses her brilliantly coloured palette and simplified form to tackle tough yet necessary, topical themes that, as the artist states, are ‘easy to swallow, hard to digest.’ ii


    ART CITIES:N.York-Stuart Davis


    Stuart Davis, American Painting, 1932, Collection of the Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, on extended loan from the University of Nebraska
    © 2021 Estate of Stuart Davis / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY



    Belonging to a wider series of works by Abney that directly address the disturbing issues of police brutality and racial bias, the composition draws comparisons to themes explored by Jean-Michel Basquiat in his painting Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart) from 1983. Showing two pink-faced, vampire-toothed police with batons raised over an all-black silhouette, the highly personal work was created in response to the tragedy that took the life of Michael Stewart, a young Black artist in New York who died following an incident with the city’s transit police. Devoid of the signature symbols that populate Basquiat’s visual language, the central figure is instead framed by negative space that conveys a powerful sense of isolation, reflecting the raw, brutal tensions evoked by the harrowing scene.  




    Jean-Michel Basquiat, Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart), 1983

    Collection of Nina Clemente
    © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York.


    In Abney’s Untitled (IXI Black), however, like in her piece Class of 2007, the assumed races of the composition’s subjects have been flipped as the uniformed officer is Black and the man being apprehended is white. Stirring viewers to consider the race-reversal and its implications, Abney extends the challenging conversation explored by Basquiat that is, distressingly, still poignant today.


    Although suggestive, Abney prefers not to prescribe meaning to her work and in including references to popular culture, art history, the internet, and current events through the amalgamation of chromatically vibrant, geometric line and form that fill the background, an active engagement is required of the viewer to interpret the symbolism of each contributing component, thereby forming their own response to the piece. As such, through this remixed portrayal of a variety of symbology, political or otherwise, Abney bombards viewers with satirical, disjointed and sometimes contradictory suggestions to capture a visual language reflective of the universal way we consume data today, where loaded news headlines are interrupted by Twitter messages and pop-up notifications, as we constantly and passively flip through the channels. 


    As the artist expresses, ‘I don’t attempt to communicate anything specific to the viewer. I simply share my thoughts and hope that the viewer will have an experience, rather pleasant or unpleasant, that will start a conversation, spark an emotion, or help to them to convey their own message to themselves.’ iii




    Nina Chanel Abney discusses her work ahead of her Royal Flush exhibition of which the present work formed part of, 2017

    Video Courtesy of the Nasher Museum of Art, North Carolina


    Collector’s Digest


    Celebrated for being at the forefront of a generation of artists unapologetically revitalising narrative-driven figurative painting, Abney’s work is included in collections around the world. This includes the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Brooklyn Museum, New York; The Rubell Family Collection, Miami; the Nasher Museum of Art, North Carolina; and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia.


    Work by Abney is currently on view as part of Afro-Atlantic Histories at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, which opened on 24 October 2021 and will close on 17 January 2022. The Rubell Museum’s 30 Americans is also still ongoing, with the latest showing having opened at the Columbia Museum of Art in South Carolina on 9 October 2021, where it will run until 17 January 2022.



    i Nina Chanel Abney, quoted in Enuma Okroro, ‘Nina Chanel Abney Reflects on 15 Years of Honing Her Dynamic Painting Practice’, Artsy, 14 December 2020, online

    ii Nina Chanel Abney, quoted in Focus: Nina Chanel Abney, exh. cat., The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas, 27 January – 18 March 2018, online

    iii Nina Chanel Abney, quoted in ‘Easy to Swallow, Hard to Digest”: An Interview with Nina Chanel Abney’, Live Unchained, 28 March 2011, online

    • Provenance

      Kravets Wehby Gallery, New York
      California African American Museum, Los Angeles
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      North Carolina, Nasher Museum of Art (p. 57, illustrated p. 59); Chicago Cultural Centre; Los Angeles, Californian African American Museum, Nina Chanel Abney: Royal Flush, 16 February 2017 - 20 January 2019

    • Literature

      Kristin Farr, 'Nina Chanel Abney: Mad Explosive Spontaneity', Juxtapoz, vol. 23, no. 186, July 2016, p. 59 (illustrated, p. 58)


Untitled (IXI Black)

unique UltraChrome pigmented print, acrylic and spray paint on canvas
132.1 x 132.1 cm. (52 x 52 in.)
Executed in 2015.

Full Cataloguing

HK$1,500,000 - 2,500,000 

Sold for HK$3,024,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 30 November 2021