Painting That Hung in a Chicago Convention Center Brings Unexpected Windfall

A lone painting by a celebrated contemporary artist turned into a windfall on Wednesday night for a small municipal agency in Chicago.

The painting, Kerry James Marshall’s “Past Times,” sold for $21.1 million at Sotheby’s in New York, nearly 900 times the $25,000 that the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority spent on it in 1997, and a record for the artist. In a statement, Lori Healey, the authority’s chief executive, said the M.P.E.A. was “thrilled” by the auction results, adding that the price tag ended up “far exceeding anyone’s expectations.”

While it was not the most expensive piece auctioned off Wednesday — that was $34.1 million for a small Jackson Pollock drip painting on paper — it most likely produced one of the biggest returns on investment for one of the…

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