Asian collector acquires magnate Yusaku Maezawa’s prized Basquiat masterpiece for US$85m

On 18 May, Phillips garnered nearly US$225 million dollars in the 20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening Sale – ranking as the highest achieving sale in the international auction house’s history. The figure is a 61 per cent increase from the New York autumn auction in November 2021, where the sale total was US$139 million dollars.

All 36 lots offered were sold, and attained a white-glove sale. The total hammer price, excluding buyer’s premium, exceeded US$191 million dollars – close to the high estimate of US$208 million dollars. Overall, the result was better than expected.

Basquiat’s 1982 Untitled masterpiece led the sale with US$85 million dollars, and was acquired by an Asian collector. It also became the most expensive artwork ever sold by Phillips.

Yusaku Maezawa posing with Basquiat's Untitled masterwork

Lot 12 | Jean-Michel Basquiat | Untitled, Acrylic and spray paint on canvas

Created in 1982
239.4 x 501 cm
Provenance (Amended by The Value):

  • Annina Nosei Gallery, New York
  • Akira Ikeda Gallery, Nagoya (acquired from the above in 1985)
  • Tsurukame Corporation, Japan
  • Akira Ikeda Gallery, Nagoya
  • Enrico Navarra Gallery, New York (acquired from the above)
  • Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong (acquired from the above)
  • Private Collection, New York (acquired from the above)
  • Sotheby's, London, June 23, 2004, Lot 32 (Sold: £2,500,000)
  • Amalia Dayan and Adam Lindemann, New York (acquired at the above sale)
  • Christie’s, New York, May 10, 2016, Lot 36B (Sold: US$57,285,000)
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate upon request (Expected to fetch in the region of US$70,000,000)
Hammer Price: US$75,000,000
Sold: US$85,000,000

Meiling Lee with the winning bid 

The auctioneer, Henry Highley, started the bidding at US$62 million dollars. After more than 5 bids, the hammer was dropped at US$75 million dollars. The winning bid was by Meiling Lee, Senior International Specialist, 20th Century and Contemporary Art Department, Taipei; for her client with paddle number 579. In the end, it fetched US$85 million dollars with buyer’s premium. 

As Basquiat’s orange-red Untitled masterpiece realised for US$85 million dollars, it ranks as the third most expensive Basquiat work on the global auction list. In 2017, this work garnered US$57.2 million dollars and was purchased by Japanese billionaire, Yusaku Maezawa. After five years, this work was auctioned, and its value increased by 48 per cent.

Basquiat’s Top 3 Global Auction Records:

  1. Untitled (1982) | 183.2 x 173 cm | Sotheby’s New York, May 2017 | US$110,487,500
  2. In This Case (1983) | 197.8 x 187.3 cm | Christie’s New York, May 2021 | US$93,105,000
  3. Untitled (1982) | 239.4 x 501 cm | Phillips New York, May 2022 | US$85,000,000

Basquiat’s Top 3 Asian Auction Records:

  1. Warrior (1982)183 x 122 cmChristie's Hong Kong, March 2021 | HK$323,600,000 (around US$41.5 million)
  2. Untitled (Wooden Board Triptych, 1985)217.2 x 275.6 x 30.5cmSotheby's Hong Kong, June 2021 | HK$289,316,000 (around US$37.1 million)
  3. Untitled (1982)182.9 x 121.9 cmChristie's Hong Kong, May 2021 | HK$234,290,000 (around US$30.1 million)

Maezawa bought Untitled (blue background) for US$110 million dollars – propelling Basquiat as the most valuable American artist in history at the time

Basquiat's In This Case (1983) was his second most expensive painting sold at auction

The most expensive Basquiat painting sold in an Asian auction was Warrior (1982)

Measuring 239.4 by 501 centimetres, the orange-red background Untitled is one of Basquiat's largest works. The provenance traces back to Annina Nosei, Basquiat's first manager; who then sold the painting to Akira Ikeda Gallery in Japan. It was later acquired by a prominent collector of Basquiat's works, Enrico Navarra, in New York.

Since then, the painting went to Asia for the second time to the Hanart TZ Gallery in Hong Kong. Founded in 1983 by Johnson Chang Tsong-zung, central to putting Chinese Contemporary Art on the map, it later became part of a private collection in New York. In 2004, it garnered £2.5 million pounds (around US$4.5 million dollars) at Sotheby's London. The buyer was reportedly a distinguished New York art dealer, Adam Lindemann.

In 2016, the painting was auctioned at Christie's New York. Estimated between US$41 and 50 million dollars, it fetched US$57.2 million dollars, which exceeded expectations setting a new auction record for Basquiat. The buyer was Yusaku Maezawa.

Basquiat and Enrico Navarra

Maezawa was the first Japanese civilian to stay on International Space Station

In 1998, Maezawa founded Zozotown – Japan's largest online fashion retailer. Then, in 2019, he announced his resignation as CEO and sold most of his shares to Yahoo Japan for US$3.7 billion dollars.

Another well-known identity of Maezawa is a distinguished art collector. In 2017, Basquiat’s blue background painting, Untitled, debuted at Sotheby’s New York. Estimated at US$60 million dollars, Maezawa acquired the painting for a record-breaking US$110 million dollars. This meant that Basquiat overtook his friend, Andy Warhol's US$105-million-dollar painting, Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster, 1963), as the most valuable American artist.

In fact, the sale in 2017 was the second time that the Japanese billionaire set a Basquiat auction record – the first was in 2016 when it realised US$57.2 million dollars at Christie's New York.

Earlier in May 2022, the crown as the most expensive American artist returned to Andy Warhol. His chef-d’oeuvre, Shooting Marilyn, fetched US$195 million dollars at Christie's New York – becoming the second most expensive painting in auction history. It is second to Renaissance Master, Leonardo Da Vinci's Salvator Mundi (Saviour of the World).

It is reported that the Japanese tycoon intends to establish a private art museum in his hometown of Chiba Prefecture. This present painting’s sale funds will be used to purchase different types of art for exhibition.

The demonic protagonist featured in this present Untitled painting

Jean-Michel Basquiat

Untitled embodies both the gestural lyricism and rawness – the work depicts a devil figure with blood red paint dripping from his horns. This demonic protagonist, whose body is defined only by black strokes defining ribs, rises against a fiery expanse of gestural colour evoking the physicality of Abstract Expressionism. Resembling the artist’s distinctive hairstyle, the figure is depicted with short dreadlocks.

Appearing with arms or wings spread across the canvas, he meets the viewer with a threatening grin and stares at us with piercing eyes. These exaggerated features – including an oversized triangular nose and a grid of teeth – immediately resonate as both a nod to the African masks that he admired and as a reply to European modernism’s “primitive” aesthetic.

In 1981, the American artist was invited by art dealer, Emilio Mazzoli, to hold a solo exhibition – bringing his art to Europe. A year later, in 1982, Basquiat returned to Italy and created this present painting.

That year proved pivotal for Basquiat’s career. At 21 years old, and already famed for his personal charisma as much as his creative prowess, he completed his transition from street graffitist to fully-fledged sovereign of the New York art scene. Working with his first art dealer, Annina Nosei, the pair began to hold many exhibitions and attracted the art world’s attention.

During this sale, new auction records were set for three artists:

Lot 11 | Yayoi Kusama | Untitled (Nets), Oil on canvas

Created in 1959
130.8 x 116.5 cm

  • Günther Uecker, Dusseldorf (acquired via trade)
  • Private Collection
  • Anthony Meier Fine Arts, San Francisco
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2007

Estimate: US$5,000,000 – 7,000,000
Hammer Price: US$8,800,000
Sold: US$10,496,000

Lot 23 | Reggie Burrows Hodges | Intersection of Color: Suite, Acrylic, oil and pastel on canvas

Created in 2019
121.9 x 152.4 cm

  • Dowling Walsh Gallery, Rockland
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: US$200,000 – 300,000
Hammer Price: US$580,000
Sold: US$730,800

Lot 2 | Robin F. Williams | Nude Waiting It Out, Oil and acrylic on canvas

Created in 2017
162.8 x 112 cm

  • P.P.O.W., New York
  • Private Collection
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: US$150,000 – 200,000
Hammer Price: US$260,000
Sold: US$327,600

Other highlight lots:

Lot 15 | Yves Klein | Relief Eponge bleu sans titre (RE 49), Dry blue pigment and synthetic resin, natural sponges and pebbles on panel

Created in 1961
122.6 x 100 x 8.9 cm

  • Charles Wilp, Cologne
  • Gallerihuset, Copenhagen
  • Collection Wenk
  • Neumann & Partners GbR, Dusseldorf
  • Achenbach Kunstberatung, Dusseldorf
  • HypoVereinsbank, Munich (acquired from the above in 1996)
  • Sotheby's, London, June 28, 2010, lot 5
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: US$14,000,000 – 18,000,000
Hammer Price: US$17,100,000
Sold: US$19,999,950

Lot 10 | Alexander Calder | 39=50, Sheet metal, wire and paint

Created in 1959
119.4 x 259.1 x 12.7 cm

  • Peter Bellew and Hélène Kirsova, Paris (acquired directly from the artist in 1961)
  • Ib Bellew, London (by descent from the above)
  • Christie's, London, June 24, 1993, lot 68
  • François Pinault, France (acquired at the above sale)
  • Private Collection, New York (acquired circa 2007)
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: US$10,500,000 – 14,500,000
Hammer Price: US$13,300,000
Sold: US$15,648,500

Lot 19 | Roy Lichtenstein | Nude, Oil and magna on canvas

Created in 1997
209.6 x 114.3 cm

  • Estate of the Artist
  • Castelli Gallery, New York
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2015

Estimate: US$8,000,000 – 12,000,000
Hammer Price: US$8,600,000
Sold: US$10,267,000

Lot 14 | Pablo Picasso | Figures et plante, Oil on panel

Created in 1932
18.4 x 23.8 cm

  • James W. Wise, Geneva, New York & Nice
  • Christie, Manson & Woods, Ltd., London, June 19, 1964, Lot 44
  • Private Collection (acquired at the above sale)
  • Yayoi Gallery, Tokyo (acquired by 1982)
  • Private Collection
  • Sotheby's, London, December 7, 1998, Lot 34
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: US$4,000,000 – 6,000,000
Hammer Price: US$8,600,000
Sold: US$10,267,000

Auction Details:

Auction House: Phillips New York
Sale: 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale
Date and Time: 18 May 2022
Number of lots: 36
Sold: 36
Sale Rate: 100%
Sale Total: US$224,906,950