Ernie Barnes’ 1976 painting The Sugar Shack, familiar to millions of TV viewers for its use during the closing credits of the ’70s sitcom Good Times as well as serving as the album cover of Marvin Gaye’s 1976 release I Want You, sold at auction in New York City last night for $15.3 million.
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.”
The Sugar Shack, which depicts a dance hall filled with vibrantly drawn Black dancers, elongated as they move to the rhythms of an R&B band, was inspired by Barnes’ memories of his childhood North Carolina hometown and is painted in the style that has come to be known as Black Romantic. Gaye was so taken with the image he sought permission to use it for the cover of his ’76 album.
During the fourth season (1976-77) of the smash Norman Lear-produced sitcom Good Times, The Sugar Shack was used during both the show’s opening and closing credits, and in subsequent seasons was featured in either opening or closing credits. During the show’s fifth and sixth seasons, the painting appeared in the family apartment of the Evans family, suggesting it was the work of eldest son and aspiring painter “J.J. Evans,” played by Jimmie Walker. (Other Barnes paintings were occasionally featured on the show, and Barnes himself, who was a professional football player in the 1960s before devoting himself to his artistic endeavors, appeared briefly in two early episodes of the show.)
The painting also inspired a memorable musical number in the 1983 TV special Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever, with live dancers performing as those depicted in The Sugar Shack.
Barnes died of leukemia in 2009 at age 70.
#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