Basquiat smashes world records for art

A painting by late US artist Jean-Michel Basquiat has smashed several art market records after it sold for US$110.5 million (£85.4 million) at auction at Sotheby’s New York on Thursday night (18 May).

The untitled work from 1982, which depicts a face in the shape of a skull rendered in oil stick, acrylic and face paint is the most expensive work by any US artist to have sold at auction. It also marks a new record for a work by Basquiat, is the highest price ever paid for an artwork by an African-American artist and is the sixth most expensive work ever sold at auction.

Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa announced himself as the buyer on Instagram. According to a post from his account the work made him feel “so much excitement and gratitude for [his] love of art” and he wanted to share the feeling with “as many people as possible”.

The 41-year-old fashion entrepreneur bought the painting for a museum he is planning to establish in his hometown of Chiba, Japan. He set the previous auction record for a Basquiat in 2016 when he paid US$57.3 million (£44.1 million) for a 1982 painting of a horned devil.

Applause broke out in the sale room at Sotheby’s on Thursday night when the winning bid was announced. Maezawa secured the purchase via telephone after fighting off three other interested parties during 10 minutes of tense bidding.

Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1960, Basquiat first publicly exhibited his art at The Times Square Show in 1980. Prior to that, he formed part of graffiti duo SAMO and sold hand-painted T-shirts and postcards one of which was bought by his friend and mentor Andy Warhol. Tragically, Basquiat’s life and art were cut short in 1988 when he died of a heroin overdose in his art studio in Manhattan.

The skull painting had been expected to fetch US$60 million (£46.1 million) at auction. Now Basquiat has joined an exclusive club of artists whose works have sold in excess of US$100 million (£76.9 million). Only 10 other artworks have ever broken the US$100 million sale barrier.

He’s now in the same league as Francis Bacon and Pablo Picasso”, art dealer and Basquiat expert, Jeffrey Deitch said.

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