Large Basquiat Sells for $57 Million at Christie’s
Christie’s pulls a huge coup at its contemporary art auction for the neo-expressionist painter, achieving a record price.
Untitled (1982) by the street art-inspired Neo-Expressionist Jean-Michel Basquiat has sold for $57 million at a Post-War and Contemporary Art sale over at Christie’s New York, making it the top lot of the sale. The entire sale fetched a total of around $318 million across its 61 lots, outdoing the lackluster Impressionist and Modern art at Sotheby’s that only managed $144 million across 62 lots.
“This painting drew intense competition that dispelled questions of a market contraction. We are particularly happy that the work was acquired by a collector in Asia, demonstrating the global scope of the masterpiece market” commented Brett Gorvy, the Chairman and International Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art. The other top seller of the auction was Mark Rothko’s No. 17, which managed around $32 million. The sale established five new world record auctions for artists other than Basquiat: Agnes Martin, Mike Kelley, Richard Prince, Kerry James Marshall and Barry X Ball.
Basquiat is well known for his wild frenetic style, mixed in with his own eccentric visual language drawing from a rich symbology – skulls, masks, crowns – and other hermetic motifs that seemingly refer to his African heritage. In this Basquiat painting, he utilizes a drawing of a blackened skull fitted with horns, with colorful streaks dripped at the side, and a swirling ambiguous background of pinks, blues, and browns. The stripped down and cartoony style of the skull places the work firmly in pop art as well, which Basquiat was deeply influenced by, being one of the members frequenting Andy Warhol’s Factory studio. The whole painting is 94 by 197 inches, giving an epic propensity to the artist’s inner struggles.
The oeuvre of Basquiat fits well into the Neo-Expressionist movement of the late 20th century. Calling to mind the influence of earlier expressionists such as Edvard Munch, Egon Schiele, and Emil Nolde, these painters drew less figuratively and gave more psychological weight to every stroke, splaying color across the canvas to disfigure the body or landscape. While the past expressionists didn’t exactly cross over into full abstraction, and many still kept to capturing forms, albeit tortured; Neo-Expressionism comes after all that, and brings a full array of contemporary influences to the table.
The influence of Basquiat has spread to countless street artists, painters, even carrying over into our digital era. Blogger and artist Sammy thrashLife has a style that’s frequently compared to the art of Basquiat, especially his works that blend writing together with drawing. Indie and experimental comic artist Sarah Horrocks cited him as influential to her in how “he’d put something in his paintings, and then visibly hide it—that art could be a public secret to yourself—it’s like exhibitionist pain”.
With Picasso failing to sell and Basquiat going strong, the narrative seems to be inverted. Basquiat himself was originally greatly influenced by Picasso’s style.
Images courtesy of CHRISTIE’S IMAGES LTD. 2016