Basquiat painting fetches record $110.5M at New York auction

Thursday's sale draws Basquiat's painting into the same league as those of Pablo Picasso and Francis Bacon whose works sold for over $100m at auction. The 1982 acrylic, oilstick and spray paint work-which Sotheby's says depicts "the artist's anatomically rendered skull-like head"-was originally auctioned to an unknown private collector in 1984 for $19,000".

"Tonight, Jean-Michel Basquiat entered the pantheon of artists whose works have commanded prices over $100 million, including Picasso, Giacometti, Bacon, and Warhol", said Gregoire Billault, head of Sotheby's Contemporary Art Department in NY.

"One day the painting will be a centerpiece of my museum in my hometown Chiba, 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".

The untitled piece by Jean-Michel Basquiat hasn't been on sale in more than three decades.

Basquiat, born in Brooklyn to Haitian and Puerto Rican parents, died in 1988 of an overdose at age 27 after a fleeting eight-year career. But he built his fortune on Zozotown, an online fashion shopping platform he founded in 2004.

"Breaking $100 million for a work which is that recent is definitely extraordinary", said Gregoire Billault, head of contemporary art at Sotheby's.

"It's a great masterpiece at US$98 million dollars", he said to laughter in the room shortly before the bidding war concluded.

Only two of the 50 works on offer went unsold on Thursday, the last night of key spring sales for powerhouses Sotheby's and rival Christie's.

The auction followed Phillips evening sale of 20th Century & Contemporary Art which concluded shortly before the Sotheby's event kicked off. Phillips' auction raised $110.3m (£85.5m) with all 37 lots finding buyers. "I think it just speaks about the talent of this guy". "It's just pure emotion. He's bringing something never seen before".

And as for the collector on the other end of the phone with Nicholas Maclean, ARTnews heard from a source that it might have been Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, the art-collecting brothers who rule over their Ultimate Fighting Championship fiefdom in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Sotheby's auction of the painting started at $57 million. But several decades after his death, his vision is more poignant than ever: In 2016, the artist became the highest-grossing American artist at auction, after 80 of his works sold for almost $172 million.

The Picasso piece sold at Christie's in NY in 2015.


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