Basquiat Breaks Auction Record at Christie’s

An untitled painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat broke the artist's world auction record, selling for $57.3 million at Christie's on May 10.

An untitled painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat broke the artist’s world auction record, selling for $57.3 million at Christie’s on May 10.


Christie’s major sale of postwar and contemporary art at Rockefeller Center in New York scored $318.4 million on Tuesday evening, near the low end of the presale estimate of $285.6 million to $398.2 million. Of 60 lots on offer (one was withdrawn), 52, or 87 percent, were sold.

Even considering the addition of Loic Gouzer’s $78 million hybrid “Bound to Fail” sale on May 8, totals to date—total current Christie’s sales of about $400 million—are a fraction of what they were last year.

In comparison, last year’s “Looking Forward to the Past” sale raked in $705.9 million, followed several nights later by a dedicated Christie’s postwar and contemporary sale that was not far behind, with $658.5 million. The two-sale total amounted to a mind-boggling $1.4 billion.

The Basquiat buyer was revealed by the house to be 40-year-old Japanese businessman Yusaku Maezawa, founder of the online fashion retailer Zozotown and the Tokyo-based organization Contemporary Art Foundation. Mr. Maezawa is valued at $2.7 billion and currently ranked Japan’s 17th richest person, according to Forbes.

“When I encountered the work at the Christie’s New York preview, I had an immediate visceral connection it. Generationally, I relate to Basquiat’s culture and the essence of his life story,” said Mr. Maezawa in a statement. “Rather than monetary or investment value, I felt I had a personal responsibility to take care of this masterpiece and preserve it for the next generation.”

Mr. Maezawa also purchased four other works at the sale—Richard Prince’s Runaway Nurse ($9.6 million), Jeff Koons’ Lobster ($6.8 million), Alexander Calder’s Sumac 17 ($5.7 million) and Bruce Nauman’s Eat War ($1.7 million)—spending a total of $81.3 million. He plans to exhibit the Basquiat publicly through his art foundation.

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