On the 11th May, In This Case by Jean-Michel Basquiat went under the hammer at Christie’s 21st Century Evening Sale for $93.1 million. Less than 24 hours later, Versus Medici, an acrylic, oil stick and paper collage on canvas by the same artist, was sold by Sotheby’s for over $50 million at their Contemporary Art Evening Auction. Combined the works of art went for over $143 million. These two auction results are just the latest results in a series of affairs exemplifying the graffiti artist’s ever-increasing popularity. In light of these events, we take a brief look at the milestones mapping Basquiat’s success over the past decade and consider how these results will only continue to drive demand.
Although always being popular amongst collectors, even during his short lifetime, over the past ten years, there has been a unique and increasing demand for Basquiat’s work. The exponential scale of the art market’s increasing appetite was first observed in 2017, when Untitled (1981) by Basquiat became the most expensive work by the artist bought at auction. Sold at Sotheby’s New York Contemporary Art Evening Auction, the painting was bought by Japanese businessman and art collector Yusaku Maezawa for $110.5 million. Surpassing Andy Warhol’s auction record and becoming the first artwork that was created after 1980 to go for over $100 million, the sale of Untitled signalled only the beginning of what would be a string of auction successes for the artist.
Last month, on 23rd March, Warrior by Basquiat then became the most expensive Western artwork ever sold in Asia, setting another record for the artist and signalling a new era for Basquiat at auction. Rendered in bold blues and vivid yellows, the 1982 artwork depicts a central figure gripping a sword, posed for attack. The vibrant painting by the American graffiti artist went under the hammer for over $41 million, inclusive of fees, as part of Christie’s Hong Kong 20th Century Sale. The single-lot live-streamed sale marked a record interest in the American artist, especially by the Asian market, as well as signalling a drive in demand for the artist’s work. The artwork, Untitled, was only bought by the vendor 9 years earlier at a 2012 Sotheby’s sale for $5 million, inclusive of fees, exemplifying the exponential rise in value Basquiat’s artwork has experienced over the past decade.
As a result of the artist’s ever-growing popularity, a technology firm even sought to capitalise on the rising demand by creating a Non-Fungible Token (NFT) featuring the artist’s work. Attempting to auction off a digital version of Free Comb with Pagoda (1986) on the digital marketplace, OpenSea, the seller identified as ‘Daystrom’ promised the winning bidder the opportunity to destroy the original artwork. Bringing into question issues of ownership and authenticity, Basquiat’s estate intervened forcing the seller to take the NFT off the market.
With limited works available and the appetite for Basquiat amongst collectors steadily increasing, the value of the artist’s work is set to continue to rise, making now, more so than ever, the best time for collectors to acquire his work.