Did you know that Muhammad Ali made art? Apparently, he did, and his little-known art became a hit at an auction. In a New York auction that took place in October, more than a dozen pieces by boxer Muhammad Ali sold for nearly $1 million. Ali created 26 little-known sketches and paintings in the 1970s, which were auctioned off by Bonhams at its Park Avenue headquarters. They were sold for $945,524 in total.
Ali’s depiction of his boxing ring victory, Sting Like a Bee (1978), set a record for the athlete’s art when it sold for $425,312 to a British collector. The cost was ten times higher than the initial estimate of $40,000. He created the sculpture in Mississippi while filming the movie Freedom Road in 1979.
A 1979 artwork on canvas titled I Love You America sold for $150,312, while 1967’s felt pen sketch The Crowd, alluding to Ali’s faith, sold for $24,687. Rodney Hilton Brown, the boxer’s confidante, has the pieces in his collection.
Ali’s editions based on serigraphs commissioned by the World Federation of United Nations Associations were published by Brown University. He created several drawings for the World Federation series, such as Let My People Go (1979), which depicts the beating of an enslaved Black man. But this drawing was censored by the government agency because of its representation of racial violence. The original drawing has never been auctioned before, and it sold for $72,812 against a $40,000 estimate.
Bonhams capitalized on a growing demand for memorabilia from previous sports figures by selling Ali’s works. More of these offerings have recently been sold by auction houses such as Sotheby’s and Christie’s in order to tempt a new generation of collectors with fresh money and a fondness for nostalgia.
Bonhams, on the other hand, went a step further than the other auction houses, suggesting that Ali’s work may be classified as “Outsider Art.” The prices that appeared at Bonhams were by far larger than any of the ones previously seen for Muhammad Ali’s little-known art. The director of New York’s Ro gallery, Robert Rogal, said that he had been previously selling Ali’s work for as little as $1,000. Rogal has a print trove of 500 editions of the athlete’s work, that he acquired in the 1980s. In an interview, he said, “With the images that were created by these icons, estates today are very collectible.”
In related news, read about Michael B. Jordan’s production of ‘The Greatest,’ a Muhammad Ali TV series.
Photo via Bonhams New York