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Contemporary Art

Monumental Basquiat Leads Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled from 1982, a monumental masterpiece that has been virtually unseen since it last appeared on the market in May 1984, will lead New York's May Contemporary Art Evening auction. The landmark canvas is one of a number of iconic American post war paintings in a sale that also features Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, and Cy Twombly, as well as European masters including David Hockney and Gerhard Richter. 

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JEAN MICHEL-BASQUIAT, UNTITLED, 1982. ESTIMATE IN EXCESS OF $60 MILLION.

Jean-Michel Basquiat completed Untitled in 1982 at a time when he was virtually unknown to the art world. Exhibited only in a small group exhibition called Fast at Alexander Milliken Gallery in New York from June-July of that year, Untitled entered the distinguished private collection from which it is being offered just two years later in 1984, when it was purchased at auction for $19,000. Never loaned for public exhibition since its acquisition 33 years ago, the appearance of the painting to market is made all the more remarkable given that it has been known only from a small thumbnail picture in the artist’s catalogue raisonné. 

It is an enormous pleasure to bring a Basquiat of this magnitude to the market. The scale, subject matter, date and freshness, combined with recent record prices and increased demand for the artist’s work, make May the ideal time to present a masterpiece of this caliber – a truly outstanding achievement of recent art history – to the market.
Grégoire Billault, Head of Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Department

Untitled is among the most important paintings by the artist still in private hands. The vast canvas marks a critical moment in the artist’s career, executed in the same year that the artist had his seminal first solo exhibitions at Annina Nosei Gallery in New York and Gagosian Gallery in Los Angeles. Intricate layers of forcefully applied and impastoed oilstick, acrylic, and spraypaint in a spectrum of electric color coalesce in an intensely worked, rich surface that exemplifies Basquiat’s singular command as a master colorist and draftsman. Exploding in a torrent of irrepressible gestural energy that reflects Basquiat’s early beginnings in graffiti, the painting further inaugurated the beginnings of a new mode of figurative painting that took hold of the New York art world in downtown Manhattan in the early 1980s. 

Basquiat’s virtuosic rendering of a single skull-like head draws many parallels with the artist’s most celebrated works, perhaps most significantly Untitled from 1981 in the collection of The Broad Museum, Los Angeles. The canvas is populated with a range of Basquiat’s greatest icons: most remarkably dominated by the complexly detailed anatomical head, the three-pointed crown, and all-over scrawled typography. The work is estimated to fetch in excess of $60 million.

LEAD IMAGE: JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT. PHOTOGRAPHER/ARTIST: LEE JAFFE.

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