NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).-
Warrior, a 1982 painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat that was said to symbolize the struggles of Black men in a white-dominated world, sold for $41.9 million, with fees, at Christies auction house in Hong Kong on Tuesday.
Although Christies said it was the highest price paid at auction for a Western artwork in Asia, that may be a technicality: At a Sothebys New York sale in 2017, Japanese billionaire collector Yusaku Maezawa paid $110 million for Basquiats Untitled. It remains the artists auction record.
Estimated at $31 million to $41 million, Warrior was offered as an unusual single lot. It leads a week of 20th and 21st century livestreamed auctions at Christies and Sothebys in London and Paris, which also include an old master and a rediscovered van Gogh. Christies was betting on Basquiats global appeal to help energize the art market as it tried to emerge from the pandemic-year slump.
Annual art sales fell 22% to $50 billion in 2020, compared with 2019, with revenues from public auctions declining 30% to $17.6 billion, according to a recent report by UBS and Art Basel. Supply of top artworks remains tight, with few distress sales or big estates on the horizon near term. Asking prices are astronomical, making it hard to close deals, dealers and auction executives said.
The Warrior result, with three bidders vying for the work, illustrates why the artist is a key figure in the blue-chip art market alongside Picasso and Warhol. It also shows why these stalwarts arent likely to be easily dethroned by the headline-grabbing non-fungible token invasion, led by the $69.3 million sale of a work by digital artist Beeple at Christies earlier this month.
Both Beeple and Basquiat have a place, said Alberto Mugrabi, a collector and dealer whose father paid $250,000 for Warrior in the mid-1990s. They are both in a category of very few artists. Beeple will bring a new audience to the art world, and its an encouraging thing to see.
While the outcome for Beeples work was unpredictable bidding started at $100 the Basquiat was a relatively safe bet for Christies, which was hoping to draw new people to the market from Asia. (The winning bid came from Christies Hong Kong representative.) The company guaranteed the seller an undisclosed minimum price and got an irrevocable bid from a third-party backer, ensuring the work would sell.
Basquiat is one of the strongest markets coming out of the pandemic, said Christophe van de Weghe, a dealer who specializes in Basquiats. Its worldwide. You can sell Basquiat, like Picasso, to someone in India or Kazakhstan or Mexico. You can have a 28-year-old spending millions on Basquiat, and you can have a guy who is 85. He appeals to all kinds of people, from rappers to hedge-fund guys.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent, Basquiat explored issues of race and inequality with graffiti-inspired style, rising to the pinnacle of the contemporary art world from modest beginnings in street art. He dated Madonna, collaborated with Warhol and became a legend after dying at age 27 in 1988.
Warrior depicts a figure with fiery eyes and a raised sword against patches of blue and yellow. It was painted on a 6-foot-tall wooden panel with oil stick, acrylic and spray paint in 1982. It has come up for auction four times, including Tuesdays sale. It last appeared Sothebys in 2012, fetching $8.7 million from real estate mogul Aby Rosen.
Christies declined to confirm that Rosen was the seller of Warrior, but its provenance indicates that the current owner bought the work in 2012. Rosen offered the work for sale privately last year, according to a dealer with firsthand knowledge of the sale. Rosen didnt return emails seeking comment.
Basquiats 1982 painting Boy and Dog in a Johnnypump was among the highest known transactions of 2020. Bought by billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin for more than $100 million, it has been hanging at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Although Basquiat was prolific, theres a limited supply of work: about 900 paintings and 3,400 works on paper. By contrast, Beeples record-setting Everydays the First 5000 Days, comprised the 5,000 works the artist created over 13 1/2 years.
Alex Rotter, Christies chairman of 20th and 21st century art, recently had a chance to realize the scope of Basquiats appeal while attending the Brooklyn Nets victorious game at the teams arena Feb. 25. Basquiats signature crown was on the courts floor.
I thought, Wow! How cool is that! Rotter said this week, recalling the game when the Nets defeated the Orlando Magic. Basquiat is everywhere.
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