Jean-Michel Basquiat Untitled, an acrylic, spray paint and oil stick on canvas painting, been auctioned at Sotheby’s by the enthusiastic auctioneer. Image: Sotheby’s
NEW YORK, NY.-News about the recent sale of Jean- Michel Basquiat’s Untitled painting for $110.5 million continues to generate a lot of debate across the globe. It was an important sale by all standards. For an African American artist, the record auction price was even a greater achievement.
With the sale of Untitled, an acrylic, spray paint and oil stick on canvas, Basquiat joins the club of artists whose works have sold above the one hundred million dollars mark. He is now in the league of artists like Francis Bacon and Pablo Picasso.
To bring a better perspective to how epochal the sale was, Sotheby’s released a video, which reveals the excitement at the sale of the piece. It is titled The Battle for Basquiat.
From the moment the piece came on the auction block, the excitement was unending. In the auction room and on the phones, collectors slugged it out in their effort to acquire the painting. It was a battle of wits as some collators in the hall merely signify their intention to buy the painting with a wink or a nod. Even on the phone, representatives covered their mouth so no one could hear their conversations with the collectors at the other end of the line. They just signify with nods and by raising their hands.
As the price for the painting crossed the $60 million, the amount the work was guaranteed to the sell, several collectors dropped off and other became even more invigorated in their quest to add the painting to their collection. Then, there were two: In one area of the hall was Nicholas Maclean, an art dealer, in a deep conversation with a collector on the phone. On the other end was Yuki Terase, Japanese business development for Sotheby’s in Hong Kong.
As the bidding war went on, the auctioneer pranced from one end of the podium calling out prices: “$69 million,” “$77 million,” “$78 million,” “$79 million,” “$80 million,” “$98 million,” he called out encouraging collectors to keep bidding. At a point, he stretched out his hands like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible 5. Then, he rested his elbows on the edge of the podium as he looked intently at the crowd in front of him. He was calm yet excited as he navigated the constraining space of the podium.
When the bidding price of the 1982 Untitled painting came to $110.5 million, the battle for the most expensive painting in recent time had been won and lost. In the well-fought battle, the collector at the other end of the phone with Yuki Terase had won. It was the Japanese Billionaire, Yusaku Maezawa.
To celebrate his conquest, Mr. Maezawa soon after buying the painting posted a picture of himself and the painting on his Instagram account. As the victor, Mr. Maezawa glee cheerfully: “I am happy to announce that I just won this masterpiece.” He also explained why he battled other collectors for the painting. He writes: “When I first encountered the painting, I was struck with so much excitement and gratitude for my love of art. I want to share that experience with as many people as possible.”
Perhaps Mr. Maezawa’s quest to acquire the painting was rooted in a deeper affection for beautiful works of art and the need to share them with others. Above all, he has the tenacity to excel. Well, beat others at their game. Even before the painting came to the market, it was clear that many people wanted it. To beat everybody else to it, Mr. Maezawa had to up his game, outbidding them all. It was a game of braininess.
Mr. Maezawa is not new to bidding wars at art auctions. In 2016, the 41- year- old founder of Contemporary Art Foundation bought another Basquiat for $57.3 million at Christie’s. The large 1982 painting of a horned devil set an auction record for the work of the artist at auction.
When Mr. Maezawa bought Basquiat Untitled painting, his main object was to house it in a planned museum slated for his hometown, Chiba, Japan. Pending that, he is committed to sharing it with the world by loaning to art institutions across the globe. For him, this painting, which has been in private collection for more than 30 years, will be well severed if shared with others. Mr. Maezawa’s only hope is that it brings as much joy to people as it has brought to him.