Basquiat's 1982 Masterpiece Set To Sell At Least US$60mil

28 April 2017 - 11:50am

In the upcoming May 18 sale in New York, Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction will be led by Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled from 1982, a monumental masterpiece that has been virtually unseen since it last appeared on the market in May 1984.

The landmark canvas is one of a number of iconic American post-war paintings in a sale that also features Roy Lichtenstein n's Nude Sunbathing, a classic, vibrant-red example of the late artist's work, as well as top quality examples from  Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly, as well as European masters including David Hockney, Rudolf Stingel and Gerhard Richter. The pre-sale exhibition opens in New York on 5 May.

Grégoire Billault, Head of Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Department in New York, commented: “It is an enormous pleasure to bring a Basquiat of this magnitude to the market. The scale, subject matter, date and freshness, combined with recent record prices and increased demand for the artist’s work, make May the ideal time to present a masterpiece of this caliber – a truly outstanding achievement of recent art history – to the market.”

Jean-Michel Basquiat completed Untitled in 1982 at a time when he was virtually unknown to the art world. Exhibited only in a small group exhibition called Fast at Alexander Milliken Gallery in New York from June to July of that year, Untitled entered the distinguished private collection from which it is being offered just two years later in 1984, when it was purchased at auction for $19,000. Never loaned for public exhibition since its acquisition 33 years ago, the appearance of the painting to market is made all the more remarkable given that it has been known only from a small thumbnail picture in the artist’s catalogue raisonné. 

Untitled is among the most important paintings by the artist still in private hands. The vast 72 1/8 by 68 1/8-inch canvas marks a critical moment in the artist’s career, executed in the same year that the artist had his seminal first solo exhibitions at Annina Nosei Gallery in New York and Gagosian Gallery in Los Angeles. Intricate layers of forcefully applied and impastoed oilstick, acrylic, and spraypaint in a spectrum of electric color coalesce in an intensely worked, rich surface that exemplifies Basquiat’s singular command as a master colorist and draftsman. Exploding in a torrent of irrepressible gestural energy that reflects Basquiat’s early beginnings in graffiti, the painting further inaugurated the beginnings of a new mode of figurative painting that took hold of the New York art world in downtown Manhattan in the early 1980s. Basquiat’s exceptional rendering of a single skull-like head draws many parallels with the artist’s most celebrated works, perhaps most significantly Untitled from 1981 in the collection of The Broad, Los Angeles. The canvas is populated with a range of Basquiat’s greatest icons: most remarkably dominated by the complexly detailed anatomical head, the three-pointed crown and all-over scrawled typography. The work is estimated to fetch in excess of $60 million.