A painting by artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, who is not a household name, sold for $110.5 million, which is an all-time record for any artwork created after 1980. Sotheby’s auctioned off the artist’s masterpiece, which he called “Untitled.” It was created in 1982.
Five Basquiat works were sold at once. Including “Untitled,” they sold for a combined $129.3 million.
Sotheby’s described why the painting brought such a huge price:
Irrefutably the most significant work by the artist to ever appear at auction, Untitled ranks among the ultimate paragons of the Jean-Michel Basquiat’s oeuvre, and is the commanding counterpart to Basquiat’s Untitled (Head) in the collection of The Broad Museum. As an indisputable masterpiece from the singular formative year of Basquiat’s meteoric career, the unveiling of Untitled marks an extraordinary moment within the legacy of Contemporary Art’s most mythic and revered figure.
Basquiat had a short career. He died at age 27, in 1988, of a heroin overdose. He was a neo-expressionist, a term used to describe artists who paint “recognizable” objects and people. Much of his work was used to highlight issues of racial and income inequality. For a period he was homeless, and he used that experience to create some of his paintings.
In a book about him titled “Lost in Translation: Jean-Michel in the (Re)Mix,” author Kellie Jones wrote:
Basquiat’s canon revolves around single heroic figures: athletes, prophets, warriors, cops, musicians, kings and the artist himself. In these images the head is often a central focus, topped by crowns, hats, and halos. In this way the intellect is emphasized, lifted up to notice, privileged over the body and the physicality of these figures (i.e. black men) commonly represent in the world.
The result of this work, financially, was a record $110.5 million sale.