Jean-Michel Basquiat Painting Breaks Art Auction Records With $110.5 Million Sale

By Sameer Rao May 19, 2017

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s mix of New York street art aesthetics with social commentary cemented his creative reputation from his 1980s peak onwards. Yesterday (May 18), one of his paintings sold for $110.5 million and set several art world records, including for the highest-auctioned work by a U.S. artist.

CNN Money reports that Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa purchased Basquiat’s "Untitled" at Sotheby’s in New York City for $40.5 million more than the auction house anticipated. The 1982 acrylic, oilstick and spray paint work—which Sotheby’s says depicts "the artist’s anatomically rendered skull-like head"—was originally auctioned to an unknown private collector in 1984 for $19,000.

"Untitled" is one of only 10 works, and the first made after 1980, to sell for over $100 million. Its sale breaks the previous record for U.S. artists set by Andy Warhol’s "Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)," which was auctioned in 2013 for $105 million. 

Maezawa surpassed the benchmark he set for Basquiat’s art with last year’s $57.3 million acquisition of another of his 1982 "Untitled" paintings. He told CNN Money that he will loan his latest purchase to museums around the world before exhibiting it in his own museum in Chiba, Japan.

"I hope it brings as much joy to others as it does to me, and that this masterpiece by the 21-year-old Basquiat inspires our future generations," said Maezawa, whose collection includes art from Pablo Picasso and Jeff Koons. 

Born in Brooklyn to Haitian and Puerto Rican parents, Basquiat was one of the first Black visual artists to earn acclaim in Lower Manhattan’s hip-hop- and punk-influenced 1980s art scene. Described by as a leader of the neo-expressionism movement, he entered "The 27 Club" when he died in 1988 from a heroin overdose.