Contemporary Art

Yoko Ono's Cherished Basquiat

By Sotheby's

S otheby's is delighted to announce that Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Cabra will make its auction debut in the Contemporary Art Evening Auction, taking place in New York on 16 November. This vibrant acrylic and oilstick painting comes from the collection of iconic artist and performer Yoko Ono and is estimated to bring $9–12 million. A portion of the proceeds from the sale will benefit the Spirit Foundation, a charitable organisation founded by Ono and John Lennon in the late 1970s. Following recent exhibitions at Sotheby’s Hong Kong and London, Cabra will return to New York, where it will be shown in the pre-sale exhibition of Contemporary Art in our York Avenue galleries, opening 3 November.


“I have had the pleasure of owning and living with this masterwork for over two decades,” said Ono. “The time has come for it to find a new home, and I am delighted that part of the sale proceeds will benefit the foundation I established years ago with the intention of bringing peace and tolerance to the world.”

Grégoire Billault, Head of Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Department in New York, noted: “Following our tremendous success with Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled in May, we are honoured to be entrusted with yet another outstanding work by the artist. Dutifully cared for by Ms. Ono, and rarely seen by the public, this painting offers collectors the unique opportunity to own a rare historic moment memorialized in Basquiat’s signature style. This work fortuitously brings together three iconic cultural figures – Basquiat, Muhammad Ali and Yoko Ono. Sotheby’s cannot be more proud to share this with the collecting community in November.”

Acquired from Tony Shafrazi Gallery in New York in 1993, Cabra has been publically exhibited only twice prior to its unveiling at Sotheby’s Hong Kong: in Basel, at the Fondation Beyeler, and in Paris at the Musée d’art moderne de la ville de Paris. In fact, the bold and vibrant work is best known from an image of Basquiat’s studio, in which it is staged immediately to the right of the artist’s easel.

At first glance, it is the striking crimson hue of Cabra that sets this painting apart from other works by Basquiat. However, upon closer inspection, the brilliant mind of this contemporary artist comes into full view. Executed at a time when Basquiat was exploring his Haitian and Puerto Rican roots, and becoming increasingly interested in the power and scrutiny of black athletes, the present work belongs to a group of paintings inspired by boxing icons including Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Jersey Joe Walcott and others. Cabra is unique in its articulation of a historic evening in 1970 when Muhammad Ali – the greatest of all time – knocked out revered heavy-weight fighter Oscar Bonavena, also known as 'The Bull'. The iconic boxing ring, the hieroglyphic 'TKO' 3 above the bull's skull and, finally, the clever play on words – Cabra is Spanish for 'goat' or GOAT, shorthand for the Greatest of All Time, Muhammad Ali – all add to this physiologically searing and visually-moving painting of one of Basquiat's long-time heroes.

LEAD IMAGE: Julio Donoso / Getty Images

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