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Art Auction to Preserve Nina Simone’s Childhood Home Kicks Off May 12, Co-Curated by Venus Williams


Nina Simone – the legendary singer and activist whose artistry has taken her around the world – grew up in a modest three-room home in Tryon, North Carolina.

In 2017, after years of vacancy and disrepair, four black artists, conceptual artist Adam Pendleton, sculptor and painter Rashid Johnson, collagist and filmmaker Ellen Gallagher, and abstract artist Julie Mehretu, joined forces to purchase Simone’s childhood home for $95,000 to save it from demolition. It has since been declared a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and is now the focus of a benefit auction conducted by Pace Gallery.

The Nina Simone Childhood Home Benefit Auction features 11 contemporary works of art and benefits the Nina Simone Childhood Home preservation project led by the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The auction is jointly curated by Pendleton and tennis champion, entrepreneur and art patron Venus Williams. Sotheby’s will host the online bidding May 12-22 and the artworks will be exhibited May 12-20 at Pace’s gallery in New York, culminating in a gala at the gallery’s flagship on May 20.

“I am so excited to be a part of this vast project centering on the life and legacy of Nina Simone, who has been a huge inspiration to so many,” Williams said in a statement. “Each of the artists Adam and I selected for auction has a unique, powerful voice and we are moved by their generosity and enthusiasm for this important cause.” The participating artists are Cecily Brown, Gallagher, Johnson, Robert Longo, Mehretu, Pendleton, Martin Puryear, Sarah Sze, Mary Weatherford, Stanley Whitney and Anicka Yi.

The gala features a live performance by Oscar- and Grammy-award winning musician HER (who will sing one of Simone’s songs), plus a ticketed dinner, provided by James Beard Award-winning chef JJ Johnson, whose four-course menu features traditional Southern ingredients. with French techniques.

Adam Pendleton, Untitled (Days Before Nina), 2023

Courtesy of Pace Gallery

“When Adam came to us with his idea for this benefit, we jumped at the opportunity. In his paintings, drawings and other works, Adam creates spaces of engagement, often using index or documentary processes, and this entire project speaks to the vast scope of that vision,” Marc Glimcher, CEO of Pace Gallery, said in a statement. “We are thrilled to be partnering with this group of incredibly talented, influential artists to showcase the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund’s Nina Simone Childhood Home preservation project. The Action Fund is doing such crucial work in preserving places of black history, and we are delighted to have Brent, a leading architectural historian and conservationist, as a partner in this important initiative.”

Brent Leggs, executive director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund and senior vice president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is committed to reconstructing national identity, using architecture as a vessel. The fund that Leggs founded was created in the wake of the 2017 cultural reckoning in Charlottesville, Virginia — “a moment when our nation’s social values ​​went unnoticed,” he says. The Hollywood Reporter — which revealed an opportunity to demonstrate the importance of historic preservation in American society.

At first, the architectural historian and conservation expert says he and his team envisioned a five-year, $25 million dollar conservation campaign; now in their fifth anniversary year, they have raised more than $90 million dollars and supported more than 200 conservation projects across the country.

“We are revolutionizing the American monument preservation profession,” says Leggs. “And it’s exciting that a national program dedicated to the sustainability of historic African American places is reinventing and redeploying historic preservation to expand the American narrative.”

This particular project, which aims to restore Simone’s hometown in an effort to protect black history And make it permanent, began when Leggs and Pendleton first met five years ago.

“He and I had this shared vision, and it was a unique belief that Nina Simone deserves a physical place where her memory and legacy will live on,” Leggs shares. Under the formal partnership for this initiative, the Action Fund has raised $500,000 to promote conservation planning activities and design services “to understand how to carefully and appropriately intervene in the restoration of the historic building.” The house is currently empty, but the official start of construction is planned for later this summer.

Ticket sales for the Pace Gallery gala cover the cost of the event, but the sales proceeds from the art auction (minus the percentage retained by the participating artists) go to the fundraising fund. “We will use those dollars to develop short-term and long-term strategies for the Nina Simone Children’s Home,” said Leggs.

Ellen Gallagher, Abu Simbel, 2005, PRINT

Ellen Gallagher, Abu Simbel, 2005, PRINT

Thanks to Gagosian

The charitable fund is also currently working to preserve other Black American monuments, including Chicago’s Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ (the site of Emmett Till’s 1955 burial) and New York’s John and Alice Coltrane Home. Leggs says: “We see these as demonstration projects that create a blueprint that can be replicated by communities across the country. Not only are we preserving these historic sites for the moment, but the work is about the perpetual management, maintenance and activation of these sites for present and future generations.”

The site of Simone’s childhood home – nearly destroyed by nature and forgotten by time – exists as a lasting reminder that shelter and refuge for Black Americans have often been a shared space. For Simone (whose mother was a Methodist minister) and many others, there is a belief in the private house (as a structure) and the church also serves as a community house. And while it’s natural to remember Simone in the public sphere — the nightclubs of New Jersey, the marches of Montgomery — the depiction of her within the four walls of her small townhome adds another register to her legacy.

“Her home is a monument and reminder of her profound cultural legacy,” Leggs says. “Together, the building and landscape embody Simone’s art, ideals, activism and spirit. And they tell a compelling story about the fundamental moments in her life.”

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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