Does ‘Made in America’ Still Matter? Footwear Brand Allen Edmonds is About to Find Out

HOW MUCH DO YOU CARE if your shoes are made in America? According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released last July, the provenance of our clothes matters a fair bit–in principle that is. Our patriotic feeling tend to dissipate, however, when we’re asked to pay a premium for something that’s made in America. The poll revealed that while 70% of Americans find it “very important” or “somewhat important” to buy American-made goods, only 21% said they would pay 10% more for an American-made product and only 7% said they would pay 50% more. With their latest marketing campaign and product refresh, Allen Edmonds, the Port Washington,…

The Play’s the Thing in a New Season of ‘Shakespeare Uncovered’

“Shakespeare Uncovered” has become a highbrow cheat-sheet, a play-by-play way to brush up your Shakespeare. The PBS television series, which begins its third and final season in October, is aimed at people who might feel they suffer from shameful gaps in their Shakespearean expertise.

“But it’s not shameful,” says Richard Denton, the British TV producer who conceived the series. “It’s really not taught well. From our first series—Shakespeare had a son called Hamnet. Why didn’t my teacher tell me that? That would have been…

Exclusive: The Director of ‘Call Me by Your Name’ Designed a New Aesop Store in Rome

A GRAND ITALIAN villa, a sun-drenched Sicilian pool, an al fresco luncheon at a 17th-century estate—director Luca Guadagnino’s films are admired as much for their sets as their subject matter. Entire Pinterest boards and magazine features have been dedicated to the homes that appear in his Desire Trilogy—I Am Love (2009), A Bigger Splash (2015) and last year’s Call Me by Your Name.

Now, for the first time, anyone can visit one of his worlds in real life. Guadagnino’s first public design project, a Rome store for Melbourne-based…

Using Fear to Break Out of a Funk

Columnist Elizabeth Bernstein diving in Iceland. She is touching two continents.
Columnist Elizabeth Bernstein diving in Iceland. She is touching two continents. Photo: Rami Seib

This summer, I decided I needed to get out of my head and into the world. I was lost in an extended funk: low energy, negative thoughts, fits of tears. I’ve written about how experiencing awe, getting out of our comfort zone and having a mantra can help us be healthier and happier. My mantra is “Fortune Favors the Brave.” So I decided to take my own advice and look for something to help me recalibrate.

I decided to scuba dive in Iceland.

I’m a passionate diver, and there’s a bucket-list dive there—you can swim between the continental plates of North America and Eurasia. I thought it would be exciting and scary enough to make me feel stronger, but still within my comfort zone.

The day before, I took a class to get certified to dive in a dry suit, which I’d need to wear in the 35 degree Fahrenheit water. I spent the morning with an instructor in an indoor pool in Reykjavik. Then we drove to a subarctic volcanic lake, so I could complete the diving required to demonstrate that I understood the skills I’d learned.

The black beach was deserted when we arrived, and the lake churned with white-capped waves. The wind howled—I’d later learn the gusts were 40 mph—and it started to pour. As we waited out the squall in the van, my heart raced. My hands shook. I couldn’t quite fill my lungs with air.

I felt I had a stark choice: Possibly die in a frigid lake in Iceland. Or go home feeling like a failure, even more demoralized than before.

Fear—the emotional response to a real or perceived threat—exists to alert us to danger. By triggering our fight or flight response, it helps keep us physically safe.

New research shows that it also can boost our mood. In a study to be published next month in the journal “Emotion,” researchers at the University of Pittsburgh measured the brain waves of 100 people before and after they went through an “extreme” haunted house—one where the actors can grab them, shock them with electricity, or stuff them into a coffin. They found that after participants went through the haunted house there was a significant reduction in their brain wave activity.

After such an event, people often feel less stressed, less tired, even euphoric. Margee Kerr, a sociologist at the University of Pittsburgh, lead author on the study, and author of the book, “Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear,” explained why. When we’re terrified, our sympathetic nervous system, which is in charge of that fight or flight response, floods the body with adrenaline and the brain with neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine. Our blood vessels constrict, to preserve blood for muscles and organs that might need it if we decide to run. And our mind focuses on the present. “The background noise washes away,” says Dr. Kerr.

The physical response typically lasts only four to six hours, Dr. Kerr says, “but the memory of how you got through it is what you draw strength from in the future.”

Keisha Berglund at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
Keisha Berglund at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Photo: Bosco Liwueli

You don’t have to dive in Iceland to reap positive benefits from fear. Dr. Kerr recommends trying physical activities that are safe but make you feel a loss of control: doing a cartwheel, running down a hill with abandon, or sprinting through the woods as fast as you can. Other simple challenges include a roller coaster, a haunted house or even a scary movie.

But the biggest feats can have the biggest payoff, especially when they involve some skill. Keisha Berglund decided to hike Mount Kilimanjaro this past summer to clear her mind of excessive worry about her future. She trained for months, then flew to Tanzania in July. On the fifth day of her climb, around 14,000 feet, the fear set in. Ms. Berglund had a terrible headache. She saw climbers being carried back down the mountain by their guides after they collapsed. And she worried she might die—or fail. “I felt like if I can’t do this thing, what does that mean about other things in my life?” says the 30-year-old social worker from New York.

She pushed through by refusing to acknowledge that quitting was an option—and hugged the summit sign when she reached it. Now when she’s having a tough day, she says: “I go back to that place where I can do anything.”

How do you know when to listen to your fear? There’s no easy answer. In the moment, it’s important to ask yourself if you are truly in danger, or in pain. If you’re deciding in advance whether to do something, ask a friend to tell you honestly if your plan is stupid. Another tactic is to write about your fear in a journal, which can help you evaluate it more objectively. Ultimately, though, your decision to continue with your plan or abort it depends on whether you can master your fear and move through it.

Experts say you can benefit even if you don’t fully complete the challenge. In fact, it’s essential that the scary situation is your idea—and that you can opt out if you want. “If you were truly blocked from disengaging, that’s where trauma comes in,” Dr. Kerr says.

Michael Lopez, 28, a copywriter in Los Angeles, is terrified of heights. But when his friends suggested a rock climbing trip in California’s Joshua Tree National Park last year to help him get over a breakup, he agreed. That’s how he found himself hundreds of feet up a rock formation, belly pressed against the wall, trying to maneuver himself into a narrow cave entrance. He inched toward it. He dropped to his hands and knees and crawled. He even sat and scooched over on his rear end. Then he gave up.

Michael Lopez hiking in Joshua Tree National Park.
Michael Lopez hiking in Joshua Tree National Park. Photo: Sarah Smart

“It took me a long time to realize that it’s a journey and the destination doesn’t matter,” he says. “I was a success just being there.”

In Iceland, my biggest fear was that I would panic, which would be dangerous. As we waited out the rain, I assessed the situation. I decided to trust my instructor, Rami Seib. I recalled other dives I’d completed in tough conditions. And I forced myself to take slow and deep breaths.

Then I stepped out of the van and into the lake. I focused on my breathing as we swam about 1,000 feet against the waves. I immediately felt more comfortable when we submerged and had no trouble demonstrating my new skills. Rami gave me a fist bump underwater to let me know I’d passed the class. Then we swam toward shore.

When we reached shallow water, I stood to take off my fins and a wave knocked me onto my back. Another crashed over me, and I took in a mouthful of icy water. Buffeted by surf and feeling weighed down by my tank, I became disoriented. And then I did have a panic attack. Flat on my back, in two feet of water, I repeatedly screamed: “Rami, help me, I’m dying!”

Elizabeth Bernstein in Iceland.
Elizabeth Bernstein in Iceland. Photo: Rami Seib

Rami got me out of the lake quickly. And he insisted that I focus on my success in completing the course, not on what happened in the last few minutes. Still, I was left shaken for hours.

Yet when he picked me up the next morning, I got back in that van. I suited up when we got to the dive site. And I followed Rami into some of the coldest water on earth.

It was worth it. The rift is filled with glacial runoff so pure that visibility is limited only by the human eye. The many shades of blue are truly dazzling. And floating in the stunning cavern between two continents, I felt strong, brave and happy. Best of all, that feeling has stayed with me.

Achieving Catharsis Through Fear

Consider a challenge that takes place in nature. Research shows this may increase the gains, says Margee Kerr, a sociologist at the University of Pittsburgh who studies fear. It helps us tap into our primal self, makes us feel competent at survival and gives us a sense of awe, she says.

Choose something that requires skill, not just luck. This will give you a sense of accomplishment, Dr. Kerr says.

Select an activity with multiple steps. Take skydiving: You show up at the shop, listen to a lecture, gear up, get on the plane. “Each of those moments will feel like an accomplishment,” Dr. Kerr says.

Practice in everyday life. When you start to feel scared before a giving a presentation or taking a test, tell yourself you are excited.

Visualize your success. Imagine the scary event—complete with sights, sounds and smells—and picture yourself completing it successfully. “You are strengthening the neural pathways necessary to complete the task,” says Greg Chertok, a certified sports and exercise psychology consultant in New City, N.Y.

Decide ahead of time what you will tell yourself if you back out. (“I tried and got this far, and that is a success.”) This will prevent you from feeling like a failure, Mr. Chertok says.

Document the experience. Write about it. Share it on social media or with friends. Frame the photo or make it the screen saver on your phone. These things will help you in the future more easily access the positive feelings the experience produced.

Write to Elizabeth Bernstein at elizabeth.bernstein@wsj.com or follow her on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter at EBernsteinWSJ.

A Golf Obsession With Balance at the Core

One look up close at tennis great Jimmy Connors practicing in the early 1980s gave Dane Chapin a life-changing realization: He would never reach his dream of playing the sport professionally.

Mr. Chapin, then a junior on UCLA’s tennis team, watched Mr. Connors, a UCLA alum, at practice one day. He knew he’d never come close to matching his talent, no matter how hard he worked. “While competitive tennis was not in my future, my desire to participate in competitive sports never left me,” he says.

In ‘The Favourite,’ Filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos Upends a Period Piece

Emma Stone uses the phrase ‘career suicide’ in the movie ‘The Favourite,’ which opens this year’s New York Film Festival. ‘I love the profanity and modern language in the mouths of these women that we have only seen looking demure in paintings,’ co-star Olivia Colman says.
Emma Stone uses the phrase ‘career suicide’ in the movie ‘The Favourite,’ which opens this year’s New York Film Festival. ‘I love the profanity and modern language in the mouths of these women that we have only seen looking demure in paintings,’ co-star Olivia Colman says. Photo: Yorgos Lanthimos/Fox Searchlight Pictures

The main characters in “The Favourite,” a tale of love, sex and power opening the New York Film Festival on Friday, can all be found in British history.

Olivia Colman plays the 18th-century, gouty Queen Anne. Rachel Weisz is the Queen’s reputed lover and political mastermind, Lady Sarah. And Emma Stone is the upstart servant Abigail Hill, who worms her way into the Queen’s affections.

But to make that period piece his own, the filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos laced the story with invented touches that reflect his darkly comic style. Government ministers in long white wigs stage live-duck races in the palace. During one dance, Sarah and Abigail’s future husband throw their arms in the air and jump around, as if a minuet had turned into a jitterbug.

“I tried to discover all the elements we could mess with, the subtle details that would allow us to give it a more contemporary texture,” Mr. Lanthimos says. “The tone I had in mind would alternate between comedy, melodrama, a love story and a political film, and include all those things.”

A Greek-born director now based on London, Mr. Lanthimos is known for his offbeat work, including “Dogtooth” (2009), about three teenagers never allowed to leave their family’s yard, and “The Lobster” (2015), in which the government transforms unmarried people into animals. “The Favourite” is his most mainstream film yet, full of opulent costumes and candlelight, with much of it shot at the 17th-century Hatfield House estate just north of London.

Mr. Lanthimos, 45 years old, was drawn to an early version of Deborah Davis’s script that he described as “a story you rarely see on screen, of three women who at a certain point in time had this power.” Tony McNamara, an Australian writer, was brought in to rewrite the screenplay, focusing less on politics and more on the characters, and adding a black-comic tone.

He and Mr. Lanthimos triaged any bit of history that didn’t suit their purpose. That includes Anne’s husband, who was alive when she ascended to the throne in 1702 but isn’t mentioned in the film.

Rachel Weisz, left, as Lady Sarah, and Olivia Colman as Queen Anne in ‘The Favourite.’ ‘She is easily manipulated,’ Ms. Colman says of her character. ‘Everyone is jockeying for their own positions because of her power.’
Rachel Weisz, left, as Lady Sarah, and Olivia Colman as Queen Anne in ‘The Favourite.’ ‘She is easily manipulated,’ Ms. Colman says of her character. ‘Everyone is jockeying for their own positions because of her power.’ Photo: Yorgos Lanthimos/Fox Searchlight Pictures

“Emotionally, what Anne had in her life was Sarah,” Mr. McNamara says. “That’s why the relationship was so intense and the slights and betrayals were felt so deeply. He seemed extraneous.”

Anachronistic language here and there added to the contemporary feel. Ms. Stone’s character uses the phrase “career suicide.” Ms. Colman, who won the best actress award at this year’s Venice Film Festival for her performance as Anne, says, “I love the profanity and modern language in the mouths of these women that we have only seen looking demure in paintings.”

At times Anne seems like a pitiful creature, a woman who has lost all 17 of her children, mostly at birth. That is historically accurate. She did not, as the film has it, keep 17 rabbits in her bedroom in their memory. She can be imperious yet forlornly jealous about Sarah.

‘I tried to discover all the elements we could mess with, the subtle details that would allow us to give it a more contemporary texture,’ Yorgos Lanthimos, right, says of his approach to the movie, whose stars include Emma Stone, left.
‘I tried to discover all the elements we could mess with, the subtle details that would allow us to give it a more contemporary texture,’ Yorgos Lanthimos, right, says of his approach to the movie, whose stars include Emma Stone, left. Photo: Atsushi Nishijima/Fox Searchlight Pictures

“She is easily manipulated,” says Ms. Colman, who will take over Claire Foy’s role of Queen Elizabeth II in the next season of Netflix ’s “The Crown,” but “everyone is jockeying for their own positions because of her power.”

Mr. Lanthimos says his intention was to explore just such complexities and to leave the audience wondering about the tangled relationships. Abigail, whose aristocratic family has been brought low, is determined to regain her status by seducing the queen.

“Did she ever feel anything about Anne or was it all just an act in order to try to survive?” Mr. Lanthimos asks. Even for the characters themselves, he adds, “It’s hard to know where that line is drawn.”

Does Sarah truly love Anne, her childhood friend, or is she ruthlessly using her to control the government? “She loves Anne and she loves the country and the two are the same,” Ms. Weisz says. “Perhaps that’s a very period notion. The queen is the body politic, her body is the body of the country.”

Sarah, who has been urging Anne to continue waging war with France, loses her political influence when Abigail becomes the queen’s favorite. “This movie could be interpreted in so many different ways, but to me it’s in part about the capriciousness of people in power,” says Ms. Weisz, who won an Oscar for 2005’s “The Constant Gardener.”

She, who like Ms. Colman appeared in “The Lobster,” says she was “prepared to enter Yorgos Lanthimos’ universe.” She read biographies of Lady Sarah, but in the end approached the film as a work of fantasy.

“You just use your imagination,” Ms. Weisz says.

“The Favourite,” which opens in U.S. theaters on Nov. 23, is already considered an Oscar contender. “You always prefer people to like your films,” Mr. Lanthimos says. “At the same time I don’t think I’d be the happiest person on Earth if absolutely everyone loved my film. I’d think there’s something wrong with it.”

More in Film

He Was More Than a Mannerist

New York

Jacopo Pontormo (1494-1557), one of the most accomplished and intriguing painters Florence ever produced, has been maligned by history on at least two fronts. First, by the great artist biographer Giorgio Vasari, who recognized Pontormo’s gifts but depicted him as a solitary eccentric who imitated the manner of the German painter and printmaker Albrecht Dürer to a fault. And second, by art historians quick to label him as a “Mannerist,” a term that has often carried negative associations, broadly used to mean excessive…

Art World’s Newest Star Makes $3 Million Paintings. Is the Crash Next?

Njideka Akunyili Crosby has felt naively exploited at times.
Njideka Akunyili Crosby has felt naively exploited at times. Photo: Photo and illustration: Maxine Helfman for The Wall Street Journal

“Congratulations!”

Njideka Akunyili Crosby was painting in her high-raftered studio in Los Angeles in early 2017, when she got the text from a friend. Just a few years earlier, she had been selling works for $3,000 apiece. Now, one of her paintings had just sold at Christie’s in London for $3 million, more than six times its estimate.

It has been a jet-propelled rise to the top of the contemporary art world for Ms. Akunyili Crosby—a far cry from the small town in eastern Nigeria where she grew up. The artist, 35 years old, has since won a MacArthur “genius” grant. New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art and London’s Tate Modern have come calling. At least 20 public museums are on a waiting list for works she hasn’t painted yet.

Yet when that text arrived it made Ms. Akunyili Crosby uneasy. She’d seen what happened to others caught up in the market frenzy.

Collectors in the booming contemporary art world, the engine of the global art market, are voracious for fresh stars. They have started to throng around the handful of “it” artists who emerge in any given season. That drives prices sky high and often sets them up for a crash.

Four years ago, collectors were clamoring for abstracts by Parker Ito, another young artist. Over a matter of months, his auction prices tripled, to roughly $94,000. Then sellers angling to profit from the attention flooded his market, and demand dropped off the following year. Today, Mr. Ito’s auction prices rarely top $5,000. Mr. Ito declined to comment.

Buyers speculated on Sterling Ruby’s spray-painted abstracts, paying as much as $1.7 million four years ago for pieces like “SP51.” Last year, works from the same series were auctioned for roughly a third as much. Mr. Ruby declined to comment.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, one of the young stars of the contemporary art world, talks about her influences at her studio in Los Angeles. Video/Photo: Alex Hotz/The Wall Street Journal

And then there are artists who have all but disappeared from rotation in major auction catalogs after enjoying a few seasons of ubiquity.

“A lot of people in the art business get young artists and just wreck them—they ruin them,” said Randall Exon, a studio art professor at Swarthmore College who taught Ms. Akunyili Crosby.

Ms. Akunyili Crosby’s dealer at London’s Victoria Miro Gallery, Glenn Scott Wright, said he’s not worried about her longevity and told her this pump-and-dump initiation is “the nature of the beast now.”

Last year, global auction sales totaled roughly $28.5 billion, up 27% from the year before. Contemporary art—created by those born after 1910—accounted for about 46% of fine-art auction sales last year, according to Clare McAndrew of research firm Arts Economics.

Ms. Akunyili Crosby said she’s grateful for her success, but wishes someone had taught her how to navigate the attention. She’s felt naively exploited at times. She’s skittish about showing in New York galleries after getting entangled in a legal dispute with one. Auctions are particularly nerve-racking. If bidders push up prices too quickly, her gallery may not be able to persuade new buyers to pay similarly high amounts. That can gut an artist’s price levels permanently.

She is getting savvier, learning ways to steer her works to buyers who might not resell them quickly for profits. But the ultimate control over her work and her career remains elusive.

“My friends tell me I should just be happy my works are selling, and I am,” she said. The marketplace is now her tightrope. “It’s scary how vulnerable I still feel.”

Earlier this year, Ms. Akunyili Crosby wallpapered the exterior of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles with images that examine her notions of home, in ‘Obodo (Country/City/Town/Ancestral Village).’
Earlier this year, Ms. Akunyili Crosby wallpapered the exterior of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles with images that examine her notions of home, in ‘Obodo (Country/City/Town/Ancestral Village).’ Photo: Njideka Akunyili Crosby and Victoria Miro, London/Venice
From Home to Harlem

Njideka Akunyili (in-jee-DECK-uh ack-un-YEE-lee) Crosby grew up far from the frenzied art market, in Enugu, Nigeria, where she and her five siblings spoke Igbo interchangeably with English.

Her father, J.C. Akunyili, was a doctor at a local university hospital; her mother, Dora, was a pharmacology professor who went on to oversee Nigeria’s food and drug agency. Money was tight for luxuries such as toys, so the children usually made their own. Ms. Akunyili Crosby once made a doll for her sister by attaching a ping-pong ball to a matchbox.

In 1997, her mother applied for and won America’s green-card lottery, offered to 50,000 people a year selected at random. Ms. Akunyili and her husband stayed in Nigeria, but with the green card they were able to send their children to the U.S. to study.

Ms. Akunyili Crosby first attended a community college in Philadelphia, then was admitted to Swarthmore College. She intended to become a doctor, like her father. On a lark, she took an art class and fell in love with drawing and painting. She also met her husband, Justin, in college.

‘When the Going Is Smooth and Good’ (2017) shows the artist dancing with her husband, Justin Crosby, also an artist.
‘When the Going Is Smooth and Good’ (2017) shows the artist dancing with her husband, Justin Crosby, also an artist. Photo: Njideka Akunyili Crosby and Victoria Miro, London/Venice

After graduating in 2004 with a degree in biology and studio art, she moved home for six months and realized the Nigeria she knew as a girl—a culture that prized tea and tins of corned beef over local fare because of its colonial connections—was rapidly changing. The stylish young women she saw were wearing traditional Nigerian fabrics and going to Nollywood films made by and starring Nigerians. “It was so exciting to see people reclaiming their traditions and transforming them,” she said.

She decided she had to paint contemporary Nigeria, and the disconnect she felt living so far away. Back in the U.S., she attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts before eventually ending up in the prestigious master of fine arts program at Yale. She initially struggled—a friend and former classmate, Christian Flynn, recalls students staring perplexed at one of her nude-couple paintings—but she kept experimenting.

The fall of her second year, she hit upon the style she is known for today: lush scenes of herself and her family members dressed fashionably and hanging out in homes in cities like Lagos, New Haven, Conn., or Los Angeles. Her interiors are embedded with objects like teapots, plastic dolls and potted plants that touch on her feelings about intimacy, migration and juggling old traditions with new. She often tops her compositions with transfer-printed photographs of Nigerian politicians or pop-culture stars, creating a silk-screen effect.

“Her work is the strongest painting I’ve seen in a long time,” said artist Charles Gaines. “When black people paint, we assume they’re dealing with race or politics, and that’s a postcolonial problem that was unanswered until Njideka,” he added. “She’s painting her ordinary.”

A portrait of Ms. Akunyili Crosby with layered images, made in collaboration with the artist.
A portrait of Ms. Akunyili Crosby with layered images, made in collaboration with the artist. Photo: Photo and illustration: Maxine Helfman for The Wall Street Journal

Ms. Akunyili Crosby arrived just as the market was poised to propel her, spurred by museums and collectors who have started to champion black artists from Africa as well as from the U.S.

It didn’t take long for her works to catch the attention of a handful of dealers and collectors who regularly make the rounds of top art schools every spring to scout potential talent.

One of the regular scouts was Jack Tilton, who ran an eponymous gallery in New York and who died last year. His wife, Connie Rogers Tilton, said he was immediately intrigued.

Mr. Tilton offered to pay $5,000 for “I Refuse to Be Invisible,” a painting of Ms. Akunyili Crosby dancing with her husband, in which she stares out confidently at the viewer. She accepted. The sum would pay several months’ rent.

Another New York dealer, Jessica Fredericks, offered to include three of Ms. Akunyili Crosby’s paintings in a group show at her gallery, Fredericks & Freiser. Ms. Fredericks asked to buy one of the works, and said she would try to sell the others to collectors, Ms. Akunyili Crosby said. At the opening, the artist later told friends, Ms. Fredericks handed her a check for the sale of all three works for $8,000 each, minus a 10% collector’s discount.

The next game-changer was winning a prized yearlong residency at the Studio Museum of Harlem in New York in 2011-12. Thelma Golden, the museum’s longtime director, has a reputation for finding and nurturing art stars. Ms. Akunyili Crosby painted a dozen works that year—her most productive to date.

The Studio Museum of Harlem bought this 2012 view of the artist and her husband, ‘Nwantinti,’ at the end of her residency at the museum.
The Studio Museum of Harlem bought this 2012 view of the artist and her husband, ‘Nwantinti,’ at the end of her residency at the museum. Photo: Njideka Akunyili Crosby and Victoria Miro, London/Venice
Making Her Market

As her residency was winding down, Mr. Tilton, who was acting as one of her unofficial dealers by this point, offered her a solo booth at one of the world’s most prestigious art fairs, Art Basel in Switzerland. For decades, tens of thousands of collectors have descended for a week each June to see works from 300 galleries from around the world.

Ms. Akunyili Crosby gave him a group of works she’d painted during her residency. Mr. Tilton told her that Don and Mera Rubell, major Miami collectors known for championing young artists, had expressed interest in buying a work, she said, and she agreed the connection to their public collection could boost her profile. She suggested Mr. Tilton give them a first chance to buy “5 Umezebi St, New Haven, Enugu,” which showed off her signature style.

Mr. Tilton told her he would try, Ms. Akunyili Crosby said. Instead he sold the work to one of his longtime clients, Craig Robins, a Miami real-estate developer who started tracking the artist when she was in Harlem. Mr. Robins said he was unaware of Ms. Akunyili Crosby’s request.

The Rubells said they stopped by Mr. Tilton’s booth but were told they were too late, she said. Ms. Akunyili Crosby started wondering if galleries were looking out for her interests.

“It’s first come, first served, and we were absolutely looking out for her,” Ms. Rogers Tilton said.

Ms. Akunyili Crosby decided to start an archive with detailed ownership records. That way, she could keep track of her paintings in case other galleries or curators ever asked to show them. She asked Mr. Tilton and the other gallery in New York, Fredericks & Freiser, for the names of people to whom they had sold her early works.

She didn’t know that dealers often closely guard identities and afterlives of the pieces they sell, even keeping artists in the dark. Some worry artists may start selling directly to their collectors, cutting out dealers as middlemen. Other galleries might poach their collectors as well. Some artists don’t care, but when they do, disputes can arise. This is what happened with Ms. Akunyili Crosby and Fredericks & Freiser.

Ms. Akunyili Crosby said she isn’t allowed to discuss the details of the legal dispute she raised with the gallery in 2012 because she later reached a confidential settlement. She referred questions about the dispute to her lawyer, Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento.

According to other dealers and friends she discussed the matter with at the time, including her Yale classmate Mr. Flynn, Ms. Akunyili Crosby started sending emails to the gallery asking for the names of the people who had bought her works from the show just after graduation.

At first, these people say, the gallery told her it sold two of the pieces to collectors, in addition to the one painting the gallery bought. After she pressed for more specifics, the gallery said the buyers were actually one person. Moreover, this buyer had changed his mind and sent the paintings back, friends said.

A detail of ‘As We See You: Dreams of Jand’ (2017).
A detail of ‘As We See You: Dreams of Jand’ (2017). Photo: T.J. Kirkpatrick for The Wall Street Journal
A detail of ‘Home: As You See Me’ (2017). Ms. Akunyili Crosby layers pop-culture figures such as James Bond and Michael Jackson onto her scenes of life in Nigeria and abroad.
A detail of ‘Home: As You See Me’ (2017). Ms. Akunyili Crosby layers pop-culture figures such as James Bond and Michael Jackson onto her scenes of life in Nigeria and abroad. Photo: T.J. Kirkpatrick for The Wall Street Journal

Ms. Akunyili Crosby told friends she hired Mr. Sarmiento, who sent the gallery a letter seeking the whereabouts of the works. She told them she worried the gallery hadn’t sold the works and instead was holding them to potentially resell for a higher price later. This stockpiling move is relatively common among galleries, and it isn’t frowned upon so long as the artist is aware of the arrangement.

James Greenberg, a lawyer for the gallery, said the gallery couldn’t discuss the matter and confirmed that “an agreement was reached privately.” Mr. Sarmiento also confirmed a settlement was signed but declined to discuss the dispute further.

As part of the 2013 settlement, Ms. Akunyili Crosby’s friends said the artist was allowed to buy one of her works back for around $20,000, or 150% more than the original price. She bought “Nyado: The Thing Around her Neck.”

Around this time, Christie’s expert Vivian Brodie said she and her colleagues started getting inquiries from collectors. Did the auction houses have any work by the artist coming up for bid?

Ms. Akunyili Crosby at the Baltimore Museum of Art, where a ‘Counterparts’ show of her work opened last fall. It reopens Dec. 1 at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.
Ms. Akunyili Crosby at the Baltimore Museum of Art, where a ‘Counterparts’ show of her work opened last fall. It reopens Dec. 1 at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Photo: T.J. Kirkpatrick for The Wall Street Journal
Auction Fever

In early September 2016, David Galperin and three other experts at Sotheby’s auction house huddled around a computer in their New York office to look at an image emailed to them by a potential consignor. The 5-foot-tall work on offer, “Drown,” showed a naked couple in bed, the woman’s coffee-colored limbs wrapped around a pale man.

In today’s contemporary art market, frustrated collectors who can’t wrangle a work by a coveted artist from their galleries often turn to auction houses for help. Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips can promise vast sums to sellers to entice them to part with pieces by hot-right-now artists. In this arena, auction houses no longer serve as disinterested brokers; they’re market makers.

Mr. Galperin and his team agreed to try out Ms. Akunyili Crosby for Sotheby’s high-stakes November sales in New York. “Drown,” which had a low estimate of $200,000, sold for $1 million.

Mr. Galperin said that price “got the ricochet started” and soon “works were coming out of the woodworks,” supplied by people who had collected her pieces early on. The following spring, six more works surfaced in major sales.

In March 2017, a 2013 portrait of her eldest sister titled “The Beautyful Ones” sold in London at Christie’s for $3 million—prompting the congratulatory text from her friend. The seller was a Belgian diamond jeweler, Charles Berkovic, who had bought it three years earlier for around $20,000.

After the sale, Ms. Akunyili Crosby said she asked Mr. Tilton to contact his buyers of her paintings to ask if they would be willing to hold on to her works for the time being—or at least resell pieces privately, rather than at auction. She wanted to make sure her prices didn’t climb to levels she couldn’t sustain after the fever invariably cooled off.

‘Mama, Mummy and Mamma’ (2014).
‘Mama, Mummy and Mamma’ (2014). Photo: Njideka Akunyili Crosby and Victoria Miro, London/Venice

Roughly a month later, Mr. Tilton, who was battling cancer, called to tell Ms. Akunyili Crosby that his gallery had consigned her seminal early work, “I Refuse to Be Invisible,” to Christie’s marquee May sales, she said. Christie’s estimated it could resell the work for between $1.5 million and $2 million.

“Can you back out of the deal? Is it too late?” she said she asked him. Auction houses aren’t obligated to tell anyone the names of its winning bidders. A contract had already been signed, he told her.

He died on May 7, nearly two weeks before the sale. His wife said the sale was a way to get his affairs in order.

The work attracted bids from at least four American collectors. The winner, who remains anonymous, paid $2.6 million.

The following night at Sotheby’s, Miami collector Eric Feder auctioned off another work by Ms. Akunyili Crosby, “Thread,” that he had bought for around $30,000 in 2011. The painting sold for $1 million.

Minutes later in the same sale, Theo Danjuma, the son of a Nigerian ex-general, sold the artist’s “Harmattan Haze” for $1.2 million after paying roughly $32,000 for it less than two years before.

Back in Los Angeles, Ms. Akunyili Crosby was flattered that people bid on her work, but she couldn’t shake the fear that she had lost control over her prices. Her new London gallery, Victoria Miro, promised to hold off on selling any works to private collectors and sell only to museums.

Since then, another six pieces have filtered into auctions, but most have been minor, early works. She managed to convince at least one Los Angeles collecting couple to resell another portrait in her “Beautyful Ones” series through her gallery instead of putting it up for auction.

She continues to funnel new paintings like “Dwell: Aso Ebi” to museums such as the Baltimore Museum of Art. The museum, which recently gave her a solo show, didn’t divulge the price it paid. Ms. Akunyili Crosby said she tries to sell pieces to museums for prices in the low six figures.

The Baltimore Museum of Art bought ‘Dwell: Aso Ebi’ (2017), which layers her wedding portrait and that of her parents. The teapot nods to the artist’s grandmother.
The Baltimore Museum of Art bought ‘Dwell: Aso Ebi’ (2017), which layers her wedding portrait and that of her parents. The teapot nods to the artist’s grandmother. Photo: Njideka Akunyili Crosby and Victoria Miro, London/Venice

She’s also created murals in Los Angeles and in Brixton, England, that can’t be auctioned because they are temporary pieces.

In a recent twist, she donated one of her paintings to the Studio Museum of Harlem to resell in a benefit auction. Sotheby’s estimated her 2017 botanical piece, “Bush Babies,” would sell for up to $800,000 on May 18. It sold for $3.4 million, a record for the artist.

Related reading

Write to Kelly Crow at kelly.crow@wsj.com

Appeared in the September 22, 2018, print edition as ‘Star Painter’s New Task: Holding On.’

The Secret to Sensational Fish Tacos

AT SUERTE in Austin, Texas, the masa dough for the tortillas is made fresh every day. “It’s the backbone of Mexican cuisine,” said chef Fermín Nuñez.

His first Slow Food Fast recipe calls for a stack of warm corn tortillas, and what goes with them has become another Suerte signature, called Fish a la Devil. Flaky roast fish—Mr. Nuñez suggests branzino or pompano—is served atop a chile-spiked tomato sauce dotted with buttery Castelvetrano olives. Charring the tomatoes gives the sauce a nice smoky depth.