Jean-Michel Basquiat's 'Untitled' Goes for Record $110.5M at Sotheby's Auction

Posted May 20, 2017

Last year, he became the highest-grossing American artist at auction, generating US$171.5 million from 80 works, according to Artprice, and his auction high has increased at least tenfold in the last 15 years. The highest price garnered 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.

The painting was purchased by Japanese billionaire art collector, Yusaku Maezawa who said he wants to "share that experience with as many people as possible" by owning it.

"I am happy to announce that I just won this masterpiece", Maezawa said. He revealed he would house it in a museum he is building in Japan, but before that, he would like "to loan this piece - which has been unseen by the public for more than 30 years - to institutions and exhibitions around the world". 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.

Jay Z, Kanye West, Nas, J. Cole, Killer Mike, Rick Ross, Wale, A$AP Rocky, Vic Mensa, and many others have referred to the late neo-expressionist painter in their lyrics. 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".

Basquiat's painting set several records the night it was purchase. It was valued pre-sale in excess of $60 million. His art captured the imagination of many artists, gallery owners and musicians in New York City.

"He's bringing something never seen before", Billaut said.

Basquiat died of a heroin overdose at age 27 in 1988.

Born in Brooklyn to Haitian and Puerto Rican parents, Basquiat was one of the first Black visual artists to earn acclaim in Lower Manhattan's hip-hop- and punk-influenced 1980s art scene.