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Monday, June 21, 2021

Billionaires pump up Jean-Michel Basquiat with $93.1 million Christie’s sale

Basquiat was always an art market star. In the mid-1980s, the artist was making $1.4 million a year, even as his dependence on narcotics spiraled out of control

By: Bloomberg | New York |
May 13, 2021 3:30:27 pm
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jean-Michel Basquiat In this case, Jean-Michel Basquiat Christie's sale, Jean-Michel Basquiat works, who is Jean-Michel Basquiat'In This Case' by Jean-Michel Basquiat is on display during a preview of the upcoming 21st Century Evening Sale at Christie's in New York City. (Photographer: Cindy Ord/Getty Images)

A painting of a skull by Jean-Michel Basquiat sold for $93.1 million at Christie’s in New York on Tuesday night, becoming the artist’s second-most expensive work to sell at auction and setting a new benchmark for this week’s blockbuster evening sales.

The 1983 painting, titled In This Case, was estimated to sell for more than $50 million. As the lot opened up to a salesroom populated exclusively by cameras and auction house specialists, Gemma Sudlow, a senior vice president at Christie’s who was leading the auction, opened bidding at $40 million, and quickly brought its price to $52 million.

Soon, six bidders began to vie for the work, slowly pushing its price in increments ranging from $1 million to $3 million. After about six minutes of bidding, the nearly 6.5 foot-high (2 meters) painting hammered at $81 million. Auction house fees payable by the buyer added on another $12 million.

The lot hammered with little fanfare — there was no audience to applaud, after all — and Sudlow moved on with the sale.


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The painting was last purchased publicly in 2002, when it sold at Sotheby’s for just under $1 million. It then sold privately in 2007 for an undisclosed sum. The seller on Tuesday night, according to reports, was former Valentino chairman Giancarlo Giammetti; the buyer was not immediately known.

Basquiat was always an art market star. In the mid 1980s, the artist was making $1.4 million a year, even as his dependence on narcotics spiraled out of control. (Basquiat died of a heroin overdose in 1988.)

Despite decades of market success, prices for Basquiat’s work have only truly taken off in recent years, driven by demand from a small group of billionaires.

The record price paid for a Basquiat at auction was set in 2017 when another painting of a skull, this one from 1982, sold to the Japanese internet billionaire Yusaku Maezawa for $110.5 million at Sotheby’s in New York. Since then, art fairs and auction houses have had a steady stream of Basquiats large and small. Last year, the publishing magnate Peter Brant sold Basquiat’s 1982 painting Boy and Dog in a Johnnypump for more than $100 million to Citadel Founder Ken Griffin.

Tuesday night marked the first of this week’s major auctions. Overall, Christie’s 21st century evening sale totaled $210.5 million, with 37 out of 39 lots finding buyers.


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Notably, 11 records were set for artists at auction, with a fresh group of stars taking their place at the very top of the auction firmament. A 2016 painting by Mickalene Thomas, Racquel Reclining Wearing Purple Jumpsuit, soared above its high estimate of $600,000 to sell, with premium, for $1.83 million, more than double her previous auction record. And Nina Chanel Abney’s Untitled (XXXXXX) from 2015 sold for $990,000, more than triple her previous auction record of $285,000.

Next up on the docket, though, is another series of tried-and-true market heavyweights. On Wednesday night, Sotheby’s will auction its own Basquiat, Versus Medici. It carries a high estimate of $50 million.

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