A sale of contemporary art co-curated by artist Adam Pendleton and tennis champion Venus Williams will raise money for the restoration of singer and civil rights activist Nina Simone’s childhood home, years after a group of artists purchased the house in order to protect it and preserve Simone’s legacy.
Artists who will donate work for the auction include Pendleton, Ellen Gallagher, Rashid Johnson, Julie Mehretu, Mary Weatherford, Stanley Whitney, Robert Longo and Cecily Brown, with more to be announced closer to the sale. Williams, who has been spotted at fairs like Art Basel in Miami Beach, said each artist she and Pendleton selected for the sale “has a unique, powerful voice” and “generosity and enthusiasm for this important cause”. In May, Sothbey’s will hold an online auction to coincide with an in-person gala hosted by Pace Gallery, where Sotheby’s auctioneer Kimberly Pirtle will highlight key lots.
Proceeds will support the restoration of Simone’s home, a project spearheaded by the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund (AACHAF). The fund, the largest preservation effort ever dedicated to African American historic sites, aims to raise $5m for the site’s ongoing preservation.
"Artistic revolutionaries like Nina Simone remind us that art, in all its forms, has extraordinary power,” Pendleton said in a statement. “During her lifetime, her music reverberated across continents and generations. It continues to move and provoke people from all walks of life with its beauty, its sincerity and its sheer audacity. The project of preserving her childhood home has been, for me, a powerful reminder of her enduring legacy.”
The 660 sq. ft house is located in Tryon, North Carolina, a town 50 miles south of Asheville with a population of around 1,600. Simone was born in and spent the first four years of her life in the clapboard house, where she was first exposed to church music, jazz and the blues by her parents. Simone went on to become a legendary singer and pianist and used her songwriting to draw attention to the unequal treatment of Black Americans during the civil rights movement and beyond. She spent the final decades of her life in France, where she died in 2003.
“Nina Simone’s childhood home provides a lens into the contours of her life growing up in the Jim Crow South,” Brent Leggs, AACHAF’s executive director, said in a statement. “Our partnership … is a powerful demonstration of how art and preservation practice can join forces to permanently preserve Simone’s remarkable legacy.”
When Simone’s birthplace came up for sale in 2017, it was listed as having no water or electricity, though the previous owner had done some work to improve the house’s foundation and interior (several of Simone’s childhood friends who remain in the neighbourhood have helped advise in the restoration, according to the The Asheville Citizen-Times). Pendleton, Gallagher, Johnson and Mehretu purchased the home together for $95,000, and it was designated a national treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2018.
The AACHAF is developing a rehabilitation plan that will lay out options for the home’s future use and identify ownership and stewardship models. In an interview last year with The New York Times Magazine, Pendleton, Gallagher, Johnston and Mehretu floated ideas of using the home as a space to support aspiring artists.
The auction’s online bidding will open 12 May and remain open for ten days. Every lot will be available to view in person at Pace’s West 25th Street gallery in New York throughout the course of the auction.