A 1982 painting by Jean Michel Basquiat will be shown to the public for the first time in more than 30 years, after being sold to a Japanese billionaire for $110.5 million, a record for the artist. Yusaku Maezawa, a 41 year-old fashion tycoon, said he acquired the painting for a museum being built in his home town of Chiba in Japan. But initially he plans to promote it by lending the painting to institutions and exhibitions throughout the world.


‘When I saw it for the first time, I was struck with so much excitement and gratitude for my love of art,’ said Mr Maezawa. ‘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.’

Basquiat’s depiction of a colourful skull forged from slick oil and spray-paint, and painted in graffiti style, joined a club of only ten other works to have sold for over $100 million dollars. It is now the sixth most expensive work ever sold at auction. There were gasps from the audience at Sotheby’s Post War & Contemporary Auction as at least 4 people placed their bids on the phones. In the 10-ten minute bidding war in New York the price shot quickly past the $60 million for which it had been guaranteed to sell.

‘At that moment, Jean Michel Basquiat entered the pantheon of artists whose work has commanded prices over $100 million, including Picasso, Giacometti, Bacon and Warhol,’ said Gregoire Billault, head of Sotheby’s contemporary art department in New York. The piece, which went to auction named ‘Untitled,’ was virtually unknown before it was unveiled at Sotheby’s.

It had remained in the same private collection since it was bought at auction in 1984 for $19,000. Mr Maezawa, founder of the Contemporary Art Foundation and an e-commerce entrepreneur, announced his purchase with a post on his Instagram account. Last year, he set the previous record for a Basquiat, paying $57.3 million for a painting of a horned devil. The African American artist was born in Brooklyn, New York, and died of a drug overdose in 1998. Last year, Basquiat became the highest grossing American artist at auction generating $171.5 million from 80 works, according to Artprice.

In 1981, Francesca Thyssen, the free-spirited daughter of Fiona, who happened to be a friend of mine, was constantly making waves in London’s hedonistic sub culture of rock groups and young painters, arrived at my office in Wellington Court, Knightsbridge, with Jean Michel Basquiat, who at the time epitomised the youth culture of the 1980s.

If I could have guessed when I met him what a tremendous presence he would become on the art scene before departing from it at the age 27, I would certainly have become a very wealthy art collector. Instead, today in minor consolation, to remind me of a lost opportunity Quartet has for many years published his biography, which is still selling well.


For those who are intrigued by this young prodigy our book will perhaps give them an insight as to why his paintings are reaching unparalleled heights at auction.

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