At auction, Ernie Barnes' Sugar Shack painting fetches a high price.

The Sugar Shack sold for $15.3 million at Christies 20th Century auction . Energy trader Bill Perkins led the bidding, which attracted 22 bidders .

By Robin PogrebinThe most famous painting by Ernie Barnes, The Sugar Shack, sold for a whopping $15.3 million on Thursday evening at Christie's 20th Century auction, led by energy trader Bill Perkins.In a telephone interview after the sale, Perkins, 53, said it was 76 times its high estimate of $200,000.I took it I would have paid a lot more.It's more well-known in certain sections of America than the Mona Lisa.Perkins said he didn't want to be on the phone with his partner, Lara Sebastian, so he flew to New York City to attend the auction in person though he was based in Houston.

What if Oprah appears?What if P. Diddy appears, he recalls thinking.Im not going to be able to purchase this, he said, if something goes wrong with Perkins at the auction, he and Sebastian have a plan.I said to you, babe, if I have a problem or I pass out, don't worry about me: Keep bidding.

According to art reporter Josh Baer, the bidding was decided between Perkins and someone else in the room, art consultant Gurr Johns, who was bidding on behalf of an unidentified individual on the phone.Perkins said of Johns that it started and it just went nuts.To which I replied, I'm going to make you pay.The staggering price of a Czanne in the auction, as well as more than a Monet and a de Kooning, reflect not only the rarity of Barnes' painting, which was painted in 1976, but also the increasing appreciation for work by Black artists at a time when the art world has woken up to issues of diversity and made a strong effort to develop the canon.Perkins, who was raised in Jersey City, New Jersey, where his father, a lawyer, According to him, you never saw paintings of Black people by African artists.This introduced Barnes' work to not just me but also the rest of the United States.

These were all new things.This isn't going to happen again.dout The cultural significance of this work is really crazy, Perkins said, because he was taught about art by Rick Lowe, a Houston-based artist and community organizer whose Project Row Houses have become a leading example of social practice art.Perkins said that he has some other Barnes works as well as ones by Charles White.Lowe said that the collector's job is to provide a warning of what is important to museums and the world.

I am not a science buff, I am not an art genius, but I am familiar with markets, he said.Perkins said that he wanted to loan the Barnes to a museum so that the public could enjoy it before it disappears into his house, where I can see it every day and soak up the memory dividend and the happy absurdity that I can own it.Howardena Pindell's sewn canvas squares sold for $1.3 million (estimate $300,000 to $500,000); Ruth Asawa's brass and copper wire work sold for $1.3 million (estimate $800,000 to $ There were a few surprises, particularly Emanuel Leutzes grand Washington Crossing the Delaware, which sold for $45 million, more than twice the museum's target of $20 million, a 1909 Picasso bronze cast, Head of a Woman, sold for $48.5 million on Thursday evening for the Metropolitan Museum of Arts acquisition fund, which was recently decommissioned and was projected to sell for $30 million.Perkins said he could have bought a Czanne or de Kooning at But he was only interested in the Barnes.I've been waiting about 40 years for this moment, he said.

This article was first published in The New York Times.