A Billionaire Art Collector Is Selling His Basquiat Painting For A Record $70 Million
The iconic painting featuring a sinister devil has appreciated greatly since its $57.3 million sale in 2016.
Basquiat is back on the market and bigger than ever before. This week, auction house Phillips announced the legendary graffitist and fine artist’s 16-foot canvas Untitled (1982) will hit the auction block straight from the collection of Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa.
Valued at $70 million, this painting is slated to shatter Phillip’s records for most lucrative lot ever sold. The artwork goes up for grabs on May 18 at the auction house’s Evening Sale of 20th Century & Contemporary Art—but not before an international tour that’ll take the monumental canvas through London, Los Angeles, and Taipei.
During his lifetime—which was tragically cut short at age 27 in 1988—Jean-Michel Basquiat was a true bohemian. You might know the artist from rap lyrics, Tiffany’s 2021 “About Love” campaign featuring Jay-Z and Beyonce, or simply as a revered artist.
More recently, his work has experienced a posthumous catapult to meteoric prices, a darling of the cultured and elite. In 2021, Basquiat’s artworks garnered a staggering $439.6 million in total sales at various auctions. Maezawa’s interest in the artist has only increased his allure. And his price tags.
For example, the billionaire retail entrepreneur first acquired Untitled from Christie’s auction house in May 2016 for $57.3 million–the third-most expensive price for a publicly sold Basquiat to date.
Maezawa also owns the single most expensive Basquiat ever sold–another untitled artwork from 1982 featuring a skull that sold for $110.5 million in May 2017. The more Maezawa pays for the artist’s paintings, the more valuable his own Basquiats become.
But Basquiat’s prominence in pop culture proves his work and story really strike chords with regular people. “The public’s endless fascination with Jean-Michel Basquiat is a testament to his extraordinary vision and power as an artist,” says Scott Nussbaum, a Senior International Specialist with Phillips.
“His artworks know no bounds, resonating with people across the globe, from different backgrounds, and across time; works like Untitled are as poignant today as they were 40 years ago when he first painted them.”
One look at Untitled, which has been known to the art world previously as Untitled (Devil), both excites and unsettles viewers.
A horned devil emerges from the artist’s signature sporadic brushstrokes and haphazard drips, painted as if from a state of frenzy. Bursts of sky blue, kelly green, and mustard yellow emphasize the manic red figure and background, illustrating the ideas behind Basquiat’s skulls and devils: ideas about mortality, identity, and the dark influences lurking just beneath the surface of every human’s complex self.
“The beauty of Basquiat is his ability to inspire both seasoned and new collectors,” Nussbaum tells Maxim. “And what is great about the auction process is the ability for anyone to participate.” This spring’s historic auction aligns with King Pleasure, the first-ever exhibition of Basquiat’s artwork organized by his own family and sponsored by Phillips.
“The timing of the upcoming auction is particularly exciting as Phillips had its best year ever in 2021, becoming the fastest growing auction house in the industry and realizing $1.2 billion in sales, a 58% increase over the prior year,” Nussbaum adds.
In a statement from Phillips, Maezawa says, “The past six years of having Basquiat’s Untitled was nothing but a great pleasure and it has become a memorable piece in my collection. I believe that art collections are something that should always continue to grow and evolve as the owner does. I also believe that it should be shared so that it can be a part of everyone’s lives. I hope that Untitled will continue its great journey in good hands and that it will bring smiles to many people all around the world.”
In case you’re interested in throwing your hat in the ring, Phillips is accepting cryptocurrency for the sale of Untitled (1982) on May 18–that means Bitcoin, Ethereum, and of course, cold hard cash.