The Sugar Shack June 15, 2022–January 2, 2023
• Included with general admission.
“The Sugar Shack” is an undeniable star.
—Los Angeles Times
The Sugar Shack, the iconic painting of dancing figures by American artist Ernie Barnes, famously graced the cover of a Marvin Gaye album and the credits of the TV show Good Times in the 1970s. Recently acquired by Houston collector Bill Perkins, this beloved work of art is on loan to the MFAH. The painting went on view just in time for Juneteenth celebrations, and visitors can see it in the Kinder Building, the Museum’s home for modern and contemporary art.
Barnes painted two versions of The Sugar Shack, which depicts dynamic, elongated figures dancing in a crowded Black music hall in segregated mid-century North Carolina. The first version was acquired by Motown star Marvin Gaye, who featured it on the cover of his 1976 album I Want You. Barnes created this second version in 1976, and the painting gained additional popularity when it was added to the end credits of the groundbreaking 1970s CBS sitcom Good Times, which centered on a Black family in the Chicago housing projects with an artist-son named J.J., played by Jimmie Walker.
“Acquiring The Sugar Shack was for me the realization of a childhood dream,” Perkins said, adding that he knows the painting will be just as inspirational for all those who see it.
About the Artist
Ernest Eugene Barnes, Jr. (1938–2009) grew up in Durham, North Carolina, during the Jim Crow era. His mother encouraged him to read art books and listen to classical music. He was inspired to paint The Sugar Shack as a teenager, after sneaking into the Durham Armory dance hall. Barnes became the captain of his high school football team, and in college he majored in art on an athletic scholarship. He played pro football into the mid-1960s, before devoting himself full time to painting, in Los Angeles.
The Sugar Shack / June 15, 2022–January 2, 2023