A little-seen painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat that sold for $19,000 in 1984 soared to an astounding $110.5 million at Sotheby’s on Thursday, the second-highest price ever for a work of contemporary art.
Basquiat’s vibrant, untitled 1982 portrait achieved the sixth-highest price for any work of art at auction, bearing testament to the eagerness of deep-pocketed collectors to spend freely on trophy pieces.
It also set records for an American artist, as well as for the artist, who died in 1987.
The canvas was bought by entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa, founder of e-commerce giant Start Today, after a protracted, old-school bidding war that included four participants beyond the $60m pre-sale estimate.
Maezawa said he intends to lend the work for public exhibitions before housing it in his own museum in his native Chiba, Japan.
Sustained whoops and cheers that harked back to the tenor of the post-2010 art market boom, which was marked by spiking prices and ever-new records, broke out as the hammer came down in Sotheby’s packed salesroom.
The sale’s robust $319.2m total, which easily eclipsed even the high $277m pre-sale estimate, doubtless went far toward purging memories of Sotheby’s flaccid Impressionist and modern art sale just two nights earlier, which was marred by the last-minute withdrawal of its star offering, an early Egon Schiele masterpiece.
Only two of the 50 works on offer went unsold on Thursday, the last night of key spring sales for powerhouses Sotheby’s and rival Christie’s.
“We are living in extraordinary times,” said Oliver Barker, Sotheby’s senior international specialist of contemporary art who also served as auctioneer, as jubilant Sotheby’s officials toasted the sale.
“This is what the auction theater is really about,” Barker added. “You had two determined bidders who really had to have this picture.
The room’s atmosphere, he observed, took on that of a nightclub after the Basquiat’s success.
The price also put Basquiat, who died of a heroin overdose in 1988 aged 27, into the pantheon of such artists as Picasso, Giacommetti, Warhol and Francis Bacon, Barker noted.
The sale was not without other highlights, though none in the same league.
Roy Lichtenstein’s “Nude Sunbathing” fetched $24m, while Gerhard Richter’s “Abstraktes Bild” went for $15.4m.
Both works sold in the middle of their estimate range.