Almost a year after Christie’s set a record for a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting at auction, Sotheby’s is getting ready to break it. Leading the house’s May 18 Contemporary Art Evening Auction in New York City is Untitled, a 1982 work by the American artist that is expected to bring in more than $60 million—an estimate that surpasses the $57.2 million record fetched by another untitled Basquiat at Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale in May 2016.
The Sotheby’s canvas was last auctioned in 1984 for what seems like a steal today: $19,000. The work has been largely unseen since, remaining under the radar and off the market. “It’s not just from 1982, but from January 1982,” says Grégoire Billaut, head of Sotheby’s contemporary art department in New York. “You still have a feeling of 1981, but it was done in 1982. It’s the breaking moment of Basquiat, when I feel he is at his best.”
The market for Basquiat, who succumbed to a heroin overdose in 1988 at the age of 27, has been ridiculously strong over the last few years. Nothing in his top 10 most-expensive auction results sold for less than $20 million, and none sold before 2012. Billaut has great enthusiasm for the untitled work, which is far smaller than the current record-holder, but still sizable at 72⅛ inches by 68⅛ inches.
“[In this piece], you find absolutely everything you look for in a Basquiat,” he says. “A single figure, the color palette, the crown, the writing at the back, and the intensity—this painting is literally burning. I can’t wait for people to have the same experience I have when I see it.” (sothebys.com)