Basquait’s ‘Flexible’ Leads Phillips’ Contemporary Art Sale in New York

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Flexible became the top lot of Phillips’ US$131.6m 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in New York. It was hammered down at US$40m and sold to a telephone bidder for US$45m (premium included), double its estimate.

Flexible was an acrylic and oilstick painting on wood measuring 259.1 x 190.5 cm. It was acquired from the artist by the present owner and exhibited in many galleries and museums, such as the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and The Museum of Fine Arts. The painting is offered at auction for the first time. 

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960 - 1988) was an American artist who first gained notoriety as a subversive graffiti-artist and street poet in the late 1970s. Basquiat began to direct his extraordinary talent towards painting and drawing when he was 22 years old. Basquiat's Untitled, 1982, achieved US$110.5 million at Sotheby's New York, making it the most expensive work for an American artist.

Basquiat's Untitled 1982 set the record price for an American artist at auction. It was purchased by Japanese collector and entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa

Flexible was executed in 1984 and signed with the artist’s initials, titled and dated on the reverse. The figure depicted is a tribal king who is raising his arms and interlocking them above his head. He seems to be crowning himself, showing confidence and authority. He is also a reference of sculptural representations of the divine in various sub-Saharan African cultures, as seen in the assertive background surface.

The initials are signed on the reverse

The lungs and muscle tissues visible in the painting shows the artist’s fascination in human anatomy. His works are also often autobiographical, including elements of urban street culture, music, heroes, African-American and Aztec cultural histories.

Jean-Michel Basquiat Flexible, 1984.

Lot no.: 5
Size: 259.1 x 190.5 cm
Provenance: Acquired from the artist by the present owner
Estimate: US$20,000,000 (approx.)
Hammer price: US$40,000,000
Price realised: US$45,315,000


Auction details

Auction house: Phillips New York
Sale: 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale
Lots offered: 38
Sale date: 2018/5/17