The Astounding $110 million Basquiat Untitled Sale
On 18 May, famed American painter Jean Michel Basquiat’s painting, Untitled sold for an astounding $110.5 million (£85m) at Sotheby’s, making it the sixth most expensive piece of art ever sold at auction. In this elite class of the art market, only ten other works have broken the $100 million ceiling. The $110 million Basquiat Untitled sale put him in the company of only five other artists whose work has gone for similar staggering prices including: Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, and Vincent van Gogh, among others. Sales that night for the Sotheby’s auction brought in $319 million (£247.8m). The original estimate for the sale that night was $211 million (£164 million).
The sale of Untitled has been met with a lot of buzz from the art world and beyond. Given the amount of money the painting sold for, but also the circumstances surrounding it. Since the creation of the work in 1983, it has virtually remained unseen within a public context. This combined with the larger persona surrounding the artist only adds to this rarity of the situation.
What Makes the Sale Unique
While Basquiat’s work has gone to auction previously, there are only a finite number of his pieces that have been sold. This in turn has driven up both the cultural and monetary aspects of his art. Part of this is informed by the myth surrounding the artist himself who came to fame in the early 1980s. He died tragically of a drug overdose in 1988.
Another unique aspect of this historic sale is that Basquiat is the only artist of colour whose work has broken this benchmark. The pieces that sold for over a $100 million prior to the May 28 sale have been all been white male artists. The $110 million Basquiat Untitled sale is helping to level the playing field for artists of colour while also acknowledging the incredible legacy that Basquiat left behind.
The painting was sold to Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, founder of Japan’s largest fashion mall, Zozotown. Maezawa who is an avid art collector, purchased another Basquiat painting in 2016 for $80 million (£55m).
Mazawa revealed via Instagram that he was the purchaser of the painting in a post. He said, “I am happy to announce that I just won this masterpiece. When I first encountered this painting, I was struck with so much excitement and gratitude for my love of art. I want to share that experience with as many people as possible.”
The 1982 painting features a magnetic blue backdrop with white around the edges and in the centre, is a large head scrawled in black paint. The head’s features are outlined in various colours including blue, white, and yellow. The powerful painting has not been displayed before publicly, but that may change now that Untitled is in Miyazawa’s hands.
Basquiat Sales Continue
On June 29, more of Basquiat’s work sold at Christie’s in London for £6.5 million with fees; est. £4M–-£6M, according to the Art Newspaper. The works sold included a 1983 triptych from the artist. At this same sale, some of Basquiat’s former collaborator Andy Warhol’s work was also up for action. This included a collaborative piece made by both artists which sold for about £3.8 million dollars.
What the Sales Means for the Market
With the global markets fluctuating, art always makes for a solid investment. However, only specific artworks have been able to reach the upper echelon of this elite marketplace. It is both the rarity of Basquiat’s work going on sale in these venues, as well as his legacy, that is helping to drive the price of it up. The sales of these pieces also indicates a shift in terms of contemporary art becoming a more sought after commodity.
According to the 2015-16 Art Market Report, “contemporary art generated a global auction turnover of $1.5 billion compared with $2.1 billion in the previous 12-month period.” This report points to a larger global trend in the overall sale of contemporary art. The $110 million Untitled sale is a ground-breaking moment for contemporary art; given the value of this piece, hopefully it will pave the way for works by other artists of colour to sell for higher price points.
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