A 1982 painting by Brooklyn-born Jean-Michel Basquiat sold for a staggering $110.5 million, including buyer's premium, at Sotheby's on Thursday night. The auction house said the price was the "highest paid at auction for a work by an American artist and for any artwork created after 1980."
"Untitled," a 72 1/8-inch by 68 1/8-inch acrylic, spray paint and oilstick on canvas work, had initially been estimated to go for at least $60 million, but the NY Times accurately predicted before the auction that "given the current international appetite for his work, that figure could go higher in a bidding war."
The painting, described as "Raw, uncensored, and fiercely magnificent" and an "incomparable masterwork" by Sotheby's, was acquired by Jerry and Emily Spiegel for $19,000 in 1984, and the couple kept it in their private collection and never exhibited it. The couple died and their "feuding daughters" inherited their parents' substantial art collection. Here's what the bidding was like:
Japanese self-made music and fashion billionaire Yusaku Maezawa unmasked himself as the mysterious buyer with a heartfelt Instagram post:
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
— 前澤友作 Yusaku Maezawa (@yousuck2020) May 19, 2017
Maezawa, 41, has been buying contemporary art for a museum he wants to open in his hometown of Chiba. When he bought another Basquiat last year for $57 million, he said, "When I encountered the work at the Christie’s New York preview, I had an immediate visceral connection it. Generationally, I relate to Basquiat’s culture and the essence of his life story. Rather than monetary or investment value, I felt I had a personal responsibility to take care of this masterpiece and preserve it for the next generation.”
Art dealer Jeffrey Deitch was happily stunned with the results of the auction, telling Bloomberg News, "I remember astounding the art world back in 1980s when I set an auction record for Basquiat at $99,000. All of us, Jean-Michel’s friends, we totally believed in his genius. I always thought he would be one day in the league of Picasso, Bacon and Van Gogh. The work has that iconic quality. His appeal is real."
"It’s mind-blowing,” Larry Warsh, a longtime Basquiat collector, told the Times. “I’m not usually impressed by numbers, but this is really out of the boundaries."