In 2021, Jean-Michel Basquiat's paintings market saw a remarkable resurgence, primarily propelled by the sale of his third highest-selling masterpiece, In This Case (1983). This pivotal event acted as a catalyst for the market's resurgence after enduring an average year-on-year (YoY) decline of -34% from 2017 to 2020. Consequently, the individual works' values soared, driving the average selling price (ASP) from £3.2 million to £12.4 million.
The price distribution within Basquiat's market is significantly influenced by rare and high-value pieces. The paintings market presents substantial investment prospects for financially capable individuals willing to hold their acquisitions over an extended period. With an impressive average selling price compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of nearly 13%.
Learn more about Basquiat's market in our American Pop Market Report.
On May 8, 1984, collectors Jerry and Emily Spiegel purchased Basquiat's Untitled (1982) at Christie's for $19,000 (USD). Fast forward to May 18, 2017, the same artwork reappeared at Sotheby's. This artwork sparked an intense bidding war lasting over 10 minutes. With an opening obid of $57 million (USD) the piece eventually sold for a staggering $110.5 million (USD) (£85.6 million GBP), setting a remarkable record for Basquiat and American artists. Renowned Basquiat collector and billionaire, Yusaku Maezawa, acquired the artwork, openly expressing his affection for it and his wish to share the experience with others.
In 2022, the art market witnessed the return of Basquiat's monumental masterpiece, Untitled (1982), a 16-foot-wide canvas created when the artist was just 22. This dynamic artwork features a commanding black demonic figure at its core, surrounded by expressive brushstrokes and drips. Part of Basquiat's renowned Modena paintings from his time in Italy, it initially sold for £39.7 million in 2016. In 2022, it reappeared at Phillips, achieving a remarkable final price of £68.6 million, a 1.5-fold increase from its previous sale, highlighting its significance in Basquiat's oeuvre and the art market's exhilarating year.
Curator Fred Hoffman wrote that what drew Basquiat to depicting the human form was, “his fascination with the face as a passageway from exterior physical presence into the hidden realities of man’s psychological and mental realms.’’ The artist's monumental work In This Case (1983) is a testament to this.
Painted when Basquiat was just 22, there is a sense of immediacy and urgency here, amplified by the deep palette, jagged linework and overlapping sketches that have become so associated with the artist's style. In this Case sold for £65.7 million at Christie’s New York in May 2021.
In the highly anticipated May 2023 marquee evening sale at Christie's, Basquiat's masterpiece, El Gran Espectaculo (The Nile) (1983), previously owned by Valentino Garavini, exceeded expectations. Estimated conservatively at around $45 million, a dramatic five-minute bidding battle unfolded between Larry Gagosian and an anonymous telephone bidder. In the end, the telephone bidder triumphed, securing the artwork for a staggering $67.1 million, making it not only one of Basquiat's most expensive pieces but also the artist's priciest artwork of 2023.
Versus Medici (1982), another poignant creation emerging from Basquiat's talent at the tender age of 22, stands as a remarkable testament to the artist's unwavering resolve and bold rejection of established Western art historical norms.
In this artwork, Basquiat fearlessly dismantles any notion of an entrenched ‘Old Masters’ hierarchy, boldly positioning himself as the rightful heir to the throne of the art world—a throne that had long been occupied by the luminaries of the Italian Renaissance. During Sotheby's New York Contemporary Art Evening Auction in May 2021, Versus Medici took centre stage and commanded an astounding price of £36.1 million.
The presence of Basquiat in the 2023 art market was undeniably prominent, achieving remarkable success that appeared to defy the challenging global economic climate. Self-Portrait as a Heel (Part Two) (1982) graced Sotheby's New York November marquee sales, commanding an astounding price of £33.8 million. This momentous sale marked the artwork's return to the auction stage after more than two decades, with its last appearance in 1999 when it fetched a comparatively modest sum of £477,251 at Christie's. Over the span of 24 years, the painting's value has undergone a truly astonishing 54-fold increase. In the year 2023, it proudly stands as the second-highest selling Basquiat piece and secures a place among the most valuable works created by the artist. Adding to its allure, this artwork boasts an illustrious exhibition history and made its debut during Basquiat's first west coast exhibition at his esteemed representation: Gagosian Gallery, where it held a prominent and distinguished position.
Flexible (1984) which Basquiat painted on a picket fence found outside his New York studio, was expected to sell for $20 to 30 million (USD) at Phillips in New York on 17 May 2018. This artwork achieved $45.3 million (USD) (£33.5 million GBP), becoming the star lot of the night and contributing 34% of the auction’s total. Proceeds from its sale will be used by Basquiat’s estate to foster his artistic and cultural legacy.
With a high estimate of £23 million, Dustheads (1982) soared past expectations to achieve $48,843,750 (USD) at Christie’s New York on 15 May 2013, setting a new record price for Basquiat at the time.
The previous record for a Basquiat painting was $26.4 million (USD), set at Christie’s in November 2012. Dustheads was the third most expensive lot of the Post-War & Contemporary Evening Sale, totalling £40 million, which was then the highest sales total in art auction history. “We are in a new era of the art market,’’ remarked Jussi Pylkkanen, the evening’s auctioneer.
Basquiat himself proclaimed that the year 1982 marked the period when he created his “best paintings ever.’’ With Warrior, setting a record in 2021 as the most expensive Western artwork ever sold in Asia, it seems he may have been onto something profound.
During a live-streamed auction at Christie's Hong Kong on March 23rd, Warrior found a new owner for a staggering £30.2 million. This artwork portrays a male figure wielding a sword, aptly named the 'warrior,' often interpreted as a representation of the artist himself. Given Basquiat's outspoken stance on issues related to racial division and his resistance to the conventions of traditional Western art history, the artwork's raw energy and symbolic essence undoubtedly draw striking parallels with the artist himself.
In the characteristic fashion of many of Basquiat's creations, The Guilt of Gold Teeth (1982) melds a visual tapestry of symbols, words, and enigmatic figures, crafting a distinct effect that has become synonymous with the artist's oeuvre. It is a portrayal that delves into the stark contrast between the experiences of wealth and poverty, and it comes as no surprise that the recurring motif of the dollar sign is interwoven throughout this artwork. Within this piece, the central figure is garbed in black attire and boasts a mouth adorned with gleaming gold teeth, a juxtaposition both eerie and compelling.
This mesmerising artwork found a new home at Christie's New York in November 2021, where it commanded a remarkable price of £29.5 million. It serves as a quintessential representation of Basquiat's Neo-Expressionist style, which came to prominence during this era as a significant artistic movement.
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