When the artist Adam Pendleton first heard in 2016, that musician Nina Simone’s childhood home in Tryon, North Carolina, where she first learned to play piano, was hitting the market prior ahead of demolition, he knew he had to save it. The contemporary artist recruited Julie Mehretu, Ellen Gallagher, and Rashid Johnson to form a four-person LLC to purchase the property for $95,000.
This week, their efforts were helped along through a partnership between the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund and Pace gallery, which hosted a gala and auction that raised nearly $6 million to preserve Simone’s legacy.
“We didn’t even know what we were embarking on,” Pendleton recalled of his purchase of the property, during this Saturday’s gala dinner held at Pace Chelsea, where the works on sale in the charity auction have been on view. “What we did know was the power of Nina Simone’s music, the power of an artistic legacy, the power of defining actively as an artist, as a musician, as a citizen, what America is.”
Chef JJ Johnson made dinner for the evening, and Grammy Award–winning musician H.E.R. performed Simone’s “Four Women,” which traces Black history through four imagined characters. The gala event raised about half a million dollars, according to Pace.
Pendleton and Marc Glimcher began planning both the party and sale back in 2019, the their efforts were obviously postponed by the pandemic. Meanwhile, tennis star Venus Williams joined Pendleton in selecting 11 artworks for the auction, which Pace helped facilitate on Sotheby’s online platform, featuring contributions from the four artists involved in the project as well as other artists such as Stanley Whitney and Anicka Yi.
The works all tie back to Simone, either through their titles or by honoring her impact more indirectly. “Each of the artists Adam and I have selected for the auction has a unique, powerful voice,” Williams told interviewers as the sale neared.
The online auction opened for bids starting May 12, and closed today. By 3pm, the official close of the sale, two of the lots, including Ellen Gallagher’s print (2005), a sci-fi inflected depiction of the ancient Egyptian site, were still awaiting their first bids. Meanwhile paintings by Cecily Brown and Sarah Sze had outdone their upper estimates of $260,000 and $480,000 respectively. Johnson and Mehretu were also poised to break their own estimates. In the end, the sale garnered $5,380,000 in total for the cause.
Paired with this weekend’s gala, that means nearly $6 million has been raised to ensure Simone’s childhood home can remain standing. The site may even one day serve as a cultural hub for creatives across generations. So far, representatives from Pace said, Pendleton’s collective has already partnered with numerous groups to help stabilize the Appalachian home’s exterior. Construction should resume this fall, as the home transforms into a multicultural ode to Simone’s enduring impact.