Bill Perkins Wins Bidding War Against Ernie Barnes Painting With $15.3 Million Bid

Bill Perkins wrote a book called die with zeroand the energy trader and high-stakes poker player may be able to do this if he continues to buy art.

Last week, Perkins caused a stir in the arts community by making a record purchase of The sugar shacka 1976 painting by a former professional football player and artist Ernie Barnes. Perkins paid $15.3 million for the famous painting, which the auctioneer says is more than 27 times the previous record set by the African-American artist.

“Good time!!!!” Perkins tweeted after getting the painting for eight figures.

Outrank other bidders

Perkins’ big buy at Christie’s auction in New York on May 12, which was a rare moment of exciting action in the normally mundane and boring world of art auctions, caught the attention of a a number of major outlets, including The New York Times, USA today and vanity loungethe last of which wrote about the sequence of events leading up to the purchase.

The sugar shack
“The Sugar Shack” by Ernie Barnes

Perkins, a regular in poker circles who is best known for his appearances on High stakes pokerwas one of 22 bidders at the auction and started by bidding $500,000 for the painting, which shows a group of black dancers at Durham Armory in 1952, a famous dance hall in then-isolated North Carolina.

A Los Angeles-based artistic adviser named Dan Jensenthen upped the offer as he spoke on the phone to his client, who was allegedly Melody Hobsonthe wife of george lucasaccording to vanity lounge. Perkins, who as a poker player has a lot of re-raising experience, then raised the bid to $2 million.

The back-and-forth bidding war continued and featured a tense moment between Perkins and Jensen.

“I’m not going to stop,” Jensen told Perkins, as vanity lounge reported.

“Well, then I’ll make you pay!” Perkins fired back.

All told, Perkins made the final offer of $15.3 million to secure the painting over 80 times for which it was intended to be sold.

A valuable purchase?

While $15.3 million might seem like a huge sum for a work of art, Perkins buys his lavish purchase and even maintains that he got a bargain.

“It’s a cultural treasure,” Perkins said during a recent appearance on the Artelligence Podcast. “And I felt it was a cultural treasure, but after I bought the piece, the number of people who reached out to me…Blacks, whites, a number of Americans who say they’re ‘I love this painting, it reminds me of that’…it’s solidified in my mind that it’s a cultural treasure.”

During his appearance on the podcast, Perkins, who called himself a “complete noob” when it comes to art, said he had been exposed to Barnes’ work “through friends who educated me in kind of about African American artists, and (I) kind of just found out who was culturally significant.”

“I picked up these works of Barnes and just felt like I was stealing, like I had plundered the art world (by) picking up important pieces of American art that I would consider as a relative discount.”

Perkins continued this line of thought: “The art world is biased against American art, and the world is completely biased against African-American arts, African-American narratives, which is quintessential American history. And so I’ve been able to benefit from that because I can acquire essentially free works on a relative basis, versus their historical (and) cultural significance.”

Whether or not Perkins got a good deal on the historical chart, it’s clear that the energy-rich trader and poker enthusiast who won $4.4 million in tournament poker, according to The Hendon Mafiawill still be able to afford his next meal.

*Images courtesy of Christie’s

Laura J. Boyer