Who Owns a Jean-Michel Basquiat?

In this ode to musician Charlie Parker, a leading figure in the bebop scene which formed a fundamental inspiration for Basquiat’s own musical exploits, the artist once again aggrandizes the subject of the piece by adorning the image with crowns as well as other symbols and motifs signifying greatness.Charles The First © Jean-Michel Basquiat 1982
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Jean-Michel Basquiat made his mark on the art world with his visceral, provocative and deeply poignant works. Despite his meteoric rise to fame and critical influence, Professor Jordana Moore Saggese estimates that 85 to 90 percent of Basquiat's work is in the hands of private collectors. He is a favourite amongst a number of celebrities and sportsmen, yet has a complex relationship with institutions that traditionally define artistic success and value. As such, public establishments struggle to celebrate the diversity of a voice that has come to define contemporary art, depending on the generosity and goodwill of private collectors instead.

Basquiat's art is characterised by its visceral emotionality, vibrant use of colour and incisive commentary on themes of race, class and power – emerging as a forceful critique of the societal and cultural conditions of his time. His unique blend of graffiti, text, and imagery, drawn from a diverse array of historical, political, and personal references, positioned him as a seminal figure in the post-modern art movement. The reluctance of major institutions to fully embrace Basquiat's legacy can be attributed to several factors, foremost among them the inherent challenge his work poses to traditional artistic canons and the predominantly white, elitist structures that govern the art world. Basquiat's unfiltered expression, often dealing with themes of marginalisation and oppression, stands in stark contrast to the sanitised narratives preferred by many institutions. By relegating a significant portion of his oeuvre to the private sphere, these institutions limit the public's access to his work and, by extension, to the critical conversations his art invites.

The dominance of Basquiat's works in private collections rather than public institutions speaks volumes about the art world's commodification of outsider voices. While private collectors have been quick to recognise the financial and cultural value of his art, institutional acquisition and display have not kept pace. This discrepancy highlights a broader issue of accessibility and representation within the art world, where the gatekeepers of cultural legacy often fail to reflect the diversity and complexity of the voices they purport to represent. Nevertheless, the widespread presence of Basquiat's work in private collections is not solely a narrative of exclusion; rather, it reflects the profound personal connections that individuals continue to feel, underscoring the direct and immediate impact of his art on viewers. The establishment's hesitancy to fully embrace his legacy reflects ongoing tensions between institutional narratives and the disruptive power of outsider art.

Some people who own or have owned Basquiat artworks include:

This photograph shows the couple Beyonce and Jay-Z, decked in Tiffany & Co jewellery, standing in front of a large work by Basquiat in the characteristic Tiffany blue shade.Image © Tiffany & Co. / JAY-Z and Beyoncé for Tiffany & Co. © Mason Poole 2021


Hip-hop artist Jay-Z has spoken at length about Basquiat’s impact on his artistry, and chosen to highlight his work several times. He has even taken inspiration from the artist’s haircut, and participated in a controversial Tiffany & Co. ad featuring a previously unseen Basquiat work. In the album Magna Carta Holy Grail he alludes to the artist many times, for example, he declares himself “the new Jean-Michel” and says he will “spray everything like SAMO” on the song Picasso Baby. The track Most Kingz was also inspired by the Basquiat work Charles The First, which Jay-Z owns as a print. In explaining how he took inspiration from the work, Jay-Z states: “Basquiat’s work often deals with fame and success; the story of what happens when you actually get the thing you’d die for… I’m trying to rewrite the old script, but Basquiat’s painting sits on my wall like a warning.”

Apart from owning Charles The First as a print, Jay-Z owns at least two original Basquiat artworks, including the work Mecca, which he purchased in 2013 for $4.5 million, and the work CPRKR, which he lent to the Guggenheim show Basquiat’s Defacement: The Untold Story, addressing police brutality.

This painting depicts a skeletal black boy and dog painted in similar style, against a red and orange background.Image © Creative Commons via Flickr / Boy And Dog In A Johnnypump © Jean-Michel Basquiat 1982

Kenneth C. Griffin

In 2020, billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin privately purchased Basquiat’s work Boy And Dog In A Johnnypump for over $100 million. He then quickly put it on public display at the Art Institute of Chicago, of which he has been a long-time trustee, before relocating it to Florida alongside his company and most of his art collection.

Boy And Dog In A Johnnypump joins a prestigious collection owned by Griffin, who founded investment firm Citadel. Griffin is known for his high-profile purchases, including a $238 million on a Manhattan penthouse. His passion for art is equally notable, with an art collection that includes significant works by artists like Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Paul Cézanne and Jasper Johns and a rare copy of the U.S. Constitution, for which he paid $43.2 million. He has also made substantial philanthropic contributions to art institutions, including a $19 million donation for the expansion of the Art Institute of Chicago, a $40 million donation to the Museum of Modern Art, a $10 million donation to the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and others. His $125 million gift to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago led to its renaming in his honour, and he has supported the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum and the American Museum of Natural History with multi-million dollar donations, demonstrating his broad philanthropic interests and impact on cultural institutions.

This artwork by Basquiat shows a large head, done in black lines, against a blue background.Image © Sotheby's / Untitled © Jean-Michel Basquiat 1982

Yusaku Maezawa

Retail tycoon Yusaku Maezawa and Basquiat share several parallels in their early lives and interests, making Maezawa’s affinity for Basquiat’s works quite natural. Maezawa, whose fortune from his online venture Zozotown exceeds $1 billion, is renowned for his lavish spending on art: over the course of two days in 2016, he acquired seven pieces, including works by Bruce Nauman, Jeff Koons and Alexander Calder for a total of $98 million at Christie's and Sotheby’s auctions. He announced his intention to display these pieces at his Contemporary Art Foundation in Tokyo, eventually outlining plans to build his own museum to house such a collection.

Maezawa made headlines in May 2017 by purchasing a Basquiat paintingUntitled from 1982 – for a record $110 million at Sotheby's, the artist’s highest-selling work. His art investments continued to draw attention when, in May 2022, he sold another Basquiat piece he had bought for $57.3 million six years prior for $85 million at Phillips, earning nearly $30 million more than his original investment.

Instagram © @aninaarts

Lenny Kravitz

Rockstar Lenny Kravitz owns a very large Basquiat, which is prominently displayed at his residence in Paris. About the painting, he says: “Lots of [Basquiat’s] art came my way. I could have had so many more and I just didn’t make the move back in the day – I know, I know. Idiot! We weren’t friends, but I was roommates with a guy he’d lived with. His last girlfriend was best friends with my girlfriend at the time, so when he died we had one of the first calls. Anyway, I have this one and I’m happy to have it.”

This triptych by Basquiat shows two self portraits, his face largely depicted in solid black except for eyes and a slightly parted mouth. To the left, the name Ben Webster is written repeatedly.Image © Christie's / Self Portrait © Jean-Michel Basquiat 1981

Johnny Depp

Actor Johnny Depp spent 25 years collecting eight of the Brooklyn artist's groundbreaking pieces. He placed these up for auction in 2016, as a result of his contentious divorce from fellow actress Amber Heard. These works include three paintings, Pork, Self-Portrait and Untitled (Plush Safe He Think), both done on wooden panels, as well as several works on paper: another Self-Portrait, Anatomy Six from the Anatomy series, Untitled (Cold Blooded Killer), Untitled #27 (Lee Harvey Oswald), and Untitled, which is a paper collage on panel. About Basquiat, Depp said: “Nothing can replace the warmth and immediacy of Basquiat’s poetry, or the absolute questions and truths that he delivered. The beautiful and disturbing music of his paintings, the cacophony of his silence that attacks our senses, will live far beyond our breath.”

A large male figure, with an arm bent to the side, against. abright red background. He is wearing a white t-shirt and jeans. Basquiat's crown motif can be seen outlined in blue.Image © Sotheby's / Red Man One © Jean-Michel Basquiat 1982

Leonardo di Caprio

Actor and producer Leonardo di Caprio has an increasingly large art collection, in which Basquiat remains a long standing favourite. In a 2013 interview with the Wall Street Journal, he describes how a Basquiat drawing was one of his earliest purchases. He continued: “It's fascinating to see an artist come out of nowhere and suddenly get so much bidding around them. Basquiat is one of them. He's been talked about for years as this modern-day Picasso, but suddenly like Francis Bacon or Gerhard Richter, his prices have just shot up. So it's cool to see people having this shared epiphany that this guy belongs in the upper echelon of artists.” In December 2017 he was seen haggling over a Basquiat drawing named Wire at ArtBasel Miami, after having previously been controversially tied to Red Man One that same year. Di Caprio had allegedly been given the work by Malaysian money launderer, financier and art collector Jho Low, and is said to have surrendered it to authorities as part of the investigations for financial crimes.

In this work, Warhol outlined three silver dollar coins, which depict the figure of liberty. Subsequently these were coloured in and defaced by Basquiat. Underlining Warhol’s reference to the torch bearing statue of liberty, which was built in 1886 and is the same year as Warhol's silver dollar coins, Basquiat titled that section of the canvas 'NEW FLAME'. Through the inclusion of his signature crown in the centre right, Basquiat accredited his SAMO persona to this half of the composition. Almost half of the original pink background is covered with frantic swathes of charcoal black, painted blocks of red and yellow and childlike white scrawls.Image © Sotheby's / New Flame © Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat 1985

Tommy Hilfiger

Fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger has vibrant recollections of New York in the mid-1980s, a period marked by an extraordinary fusion of music, fashion and art. His admiration for Basquiat is deeply rooted in his creativity, and his street art origins significantly influenced Hilfiger's own creative pursuits. In interviews, he recalls encounters with Basquiat in iconic nightclubs such as Studio 54 and witnessing the collaboration between Andy Warhol and Basquiat unfold. About the artist, he stated: “He really didn't care what people thought about his work, he just did what he wanted to do when he wanted to do it and in the way he wanted to do it.” He has owned many Basquiats throughout the years, including some from this collaboration with Warhol. In November 2016 he put Untitled (Devil's Head) for auction at Phillips, followed by New Flame and Sweet Pungent by Basquiat and Warhol, which he placed for auction at Sotheby’s the following year.

In Untitled (1982), Basquiat depicted the artist as a frail stick figure, with a tear in his eye. He is depicted simply, in basic black lines against a white background.Image © Christie's / Untitled © Jean-Michel Basquiat 1982

Adam Clayton

The bassist of rock band U2 Adam Clayton began collecting Basquiats in the early 1990s, while living in New York City. He speaks of the artist: “I just loved the rebellion of what Basquiat was doing. A tragic story, a tragic life.” In March 2017, he put up one of his drawings up for auction at Christie’s, which he had acquired only two years after the street artist’s death.

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