Last night I watched, in real time thanks to the internet, the sale of an “important” untitled work by Jean-Michel Basquiat. It sold for $112 million to a Japanese entrepreneur (both shown above on his Instagram page) and now holds the following records:
• Most expensive American work of art ever sold
• Most expensive work by an African-American artist ever sold
• First work created after 1980 to break the $100 million threshold
A short Basquiat art history lesson:
Jean Michel Basquiat began his career as part of a graffiti duo in NYC (using the tag "SAMO", pronounced "same-oh"). He was born in Brooklyn to a Haitian father and a Puerto Rican mother, and his Caribbean heritage greatly influenced his work. He is known for his signature style of obsessive scribbling, symbols, and mask/skull imagery. His work is fueled by contradictions (ex: primitive and classical, rich and poor, integration and segregation).
Now a little auction house info:
The painting had a $60 million guarantee (the pre-determined price the auction house agreed to pay the seller regardless of the sale price), which would have, by itself, exceeded the existing record for a work by Basquiat. The painting caused a four-way bidding war, and sold in just 10 minutes.
I'm an art nerd so I had all my art news social media and email notifications buzzing when this work sold. When I woke up this morning, however, everything from TheSkimm to Vice to NBC News was carrying the story of the $110 million Basquiat. Most of these mainstream media stories called the price “mind blowing”. As a former Sotheby’s cult member--I mean, employee--there is something very powerful about witnessing the sale of this magnitude. A tangible energy in the room. Nothing has changed since I worked there. The same well-dressed (and handsome) Englishmen are on their phones with anonymous collectors from around the world, bidding on their behalf, trying (and failing) to hide the smiles that a record price tag will produce. The auction is a spectacle in itself (watch it here) . This painting is definitely 'cool' and knowing what I do about Basquiat, the emotion and thought the artist has conveyed is obvious and admittedly impressive. This is definitely an important work. But if I am a new buyer, is there nothing more realistic that I can start with?
When the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal only write about million-dollar price tags, why would anyone assume that art is within their reach? I get it. Million-dollar price tags are sexy. But you know what else is sexy? One of Amelia Rosales watercolors, available exclusively on RedDot. Sadly, Basquiat died of a drug overdose at 27. He could never have imagined the kind of celebrity he would enjoy posthumously. And if this soft-spoken graffiti artist, who was thrust into fame virtually overnight (he went from selling $50 drawings to $100,000 paintings in a matter of several years) could not foresee this multimillion dollar circus, and any new collector only sees the “mind blowing” prices in the news, then how are we helping cultivate the relationship between the the next generation of artist and collectors?
At least RedDot is trying to change the culture and make art just a tad more attainable.