It’s the most ever paid for an American artist
Jean-Michel Basquiat first gained notoriety in the late ’70s as a one half of the SAMO graffiti duo on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. By the ’80s, he had transcended the world of street art and his neo-expressionist paintings were exhibited in galleries and museums internationally. Basquiat died in 1988 from a heroin overdose, and since that time, his place in the pantheon of American visual artists has grown exponentially. Last Thursday, his 1982 work “Untitled” was auctioned for $110.5 million—the most ever paid for a painting by an American artist.
“Untitled,” was purchased at Sotheby’s in New York City by Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa. The piece was originally bought in 1984 by collectors Jerry and Emily Spiegel for $19,000. Maezawa is a former indie rock musician who started a music import business which led to a wildly successful e-commerce clothing site. Maezawa has made a big name for himself in the art world over the past few years, purchasing works by Pablo Picasso for $22.6 million, Christopher Wool for $13.9 million, and Richard Prince for $9.7 million.
Basquiat and Andy Warhol via Twitter
“This is an art historic moment of great profundity, now that Basquiat’s poetry and anger has been elevated to the zenith of world culture,” Michael Holman, screenwriter of 1996’s Basquiat, told Complex. “With the record-breaking sale of ‘Untitled,’ the thorny issues Basquiat raises in his work—namely the myriad injustices one suffers living in America as a black man—will be amplified.” Holman believes that Basquiat’s work transcends the monetary value anyone can place on it. “There is no price that can represent that,” Holman said. “Art is something much greater than anything material; it is a literal reflection of the human soul that created it.”