My Twitter feed exploded last night when news broke that a 1982 Jean-Michel Basquiat painting of a skull brought $110.5 million at Sotheby’s, becoming the sixth most expensive work ever sold at auction. Only 10 other works have broken the $100 million mark.
“He’s now in the same league as Francis Bacon and Pablo Picasso,” said the dealer Jeffrey Deitch, an expert on Basquiat.
The sale of the painting, “Untitled,” also breaks records for a work by any American artist, for a work by an African-American artist, and as the first work created since 1980 to make over $100 million.
“It’s a really historical moment,” said Larry Warsh, a longtime Basquiat collector. “It does cement this artist once again.”
The New York Times gives it some context:
The Brooklyn-born Basquiat went from graffiti artist to an art collector darling in the span of a mere seven years. He died at 27 of a drug overdose in 1988. Last year, Basquiat became the highest-grossing American artist at auction, generating $171.5 million from 80 works, according to Artprice, and his auction high has increased at least tenfold in the last 15 years.
“Here he is, blazing a trail not only in terms of the market but also in terms of how his work is perceived more widely,” said the artist Adam Pendleton, who is African-American. “It speaks to the broader elements of American culture. And what a powerful moment to have that happen.”
Of course, one great sale does not a market make. It will take another major Basquiat to test the sustainability of this $100 million level.
“It’s mind-blowing,” Mr. Warsh said. “I’m not usually impressed by numbers, but this is really out of the boundaries.”
And the lucky buyer who got the piece? Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa – the founder of Japan’s large online fashion mall, Zozotown – who revealed himself to be the buyer through a post on his Instagram account.
“I am happy to announce that I just won this masterpiece,” he said in the post. “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.”
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. バスキア落札しました。アートを好きになってよかった。このペインティングをはじめて見た時、心からそう思いました。みなさんにも見てもらえる機会を作れたらいいなと思っています。 #jeanmichelbasquiat #basquiat #バスキア #ありがとう @sothebys
Mr. Maezawa later told Sotheby’s that he acquired his latest painting by the artist for a planned museum in his hometown, Chiba, Japan. “But before then I wish to loan this piece — which has been unseen by the public for more than 30 years — to institutions and exhibitions around the world,” he said in a statement. “I hope it brings as much joy to others as it does to me, and that this masterpiece by the 21-year-old Basquiat inspires our future generations.”