Basquiat Painting Sells for Historic $110.5 Million At Sotheby's Auction

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A painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat just sold for the highest price ever paid at auction for a work by an American artist: a whopping $110.5 million.

The 72-by-68-inch acrylic and oil stick “Untitled” painting of a skull by the late one-time graffiti artist was the subject of 10 minutes of intense bidding at a New York Sotheby’s auction Thursday night. The opening bid of $57 million drew gasps from the audience, Bloomberg reported. Sotheby’s had estimated it would sell for at least $60 million.

It was the sixth highest amount ever paid at auction for any work of art, putting Basquiat in the rarified company of Pablo Picasso. Only ten works have sold for more than $100 million.

It was purchased by Japanese e-commerce billionaire and art collector Yusaku Maezawa. He announced in an Instagram post standing next to the work that he had “just won this masterpiece.”

“When I first encountered this painting, I was struck with so much excitement and gratitude for my love of art,” he added. “I want to share that experience with as many people as possible.”

The painting was purchased in 1984 for $19,000 by collectors Jerry and Emily Spiegel when Basquiat was virtually unknown and was never publicly exhibited. Basquiat died of a heroin overdose in 1988 at the age of 27 after painting for just seven years. He created the skull in 1982. It’s considered one of his most important works still in private hands.

Maezawa plans to loan the work to institutions around the world before making it one of the centerpieces of a museum he has created in his hometown of Chiba, Japan.

Maezawa last year bought another 1982 Basquiat painting of a devil at a Christie’s auction for $57.3 million, which was then the most ever paid for a work by the artist.

The Basquiat was part of a Sothby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction of American post war paintings that also featured works by Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg, among other artists.

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