The season of Basquiat: Christie’s New York to offer a long-unseen 1982 stretcher-bar painting with an estimate of US$30m

Jean-Michel Basquiat's The Italian Version of Popeye has no Pork in his Diet (1982) – a fine example from his stretcher-bar series and out of public view for almost two decades – will cross the auction block at Christie's New York next week with an on-request estimate of US$30 million. 

The work is one of four major Basquiats to be offered during this month's New York marquee auctions. Its arch-rival, Sotheby's, will offer an untitled 1984 canvas from Andy Warhol and Basquiat's notorious collaboration, which is expected to fetch US$15 million.

Phillips, on the other hand, will sell two fresh-to-market pieces from the original collection of Italian anthropologist Francesco Pellizzi: Untitled (ELMAR) (1982), with this season's highest-estimate of US$40 million, and Untitled (Portrait of a Famous Ballplayer) (1981), estimated at US$6.5 million

Christie's canvas will be a highlight at its 21st Century Evening Sale, where Event (2004-2007), a dynamic diptych from Brice Marden's "summation" series estimated also at US$30 million, could set an auction record for the late American contemporary artist who passed away last year. 

Lot 36 A | Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) | The Italian Version of Popeye has no Pork in his Diet, Acrylic, oilstick and paper collage on canvas mounted on tied wood supports
Executed in 1982
152.4 x 152.4 cm

  • Larry Gagosian Gallery, New York, 1982
  • Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, 1983
  • Annina Nosei Gallery, New York
  • Private collection, New York
  • Lang & O'Hara Gallery, New York, 1987
  • Private collection, New York, 1987
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2007

Estimate on request (In excess of US$30 million)

Executed in 1982, The Italian Version of Popeye has no Pork in his Diet belongs to a celebrated group of works stretched over jutting corner supports and exposed stretcher bars. Basquiat and his assistant at the time set about crafting his own stretchers and frames out of a whole host of found materials on the street such as carpet tacks, wooden beams, and slats. 

These "stretcher bar" canvases, as they have come to be known, have become some of the most iconic works of his career, with examples housed in major museums such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and The Menil Collection in Houston. 

Jean-Michel Basquiat | A Next Loin And/Or (1982) | Menil Collection, Houston

Jean-Michel Basquiat | A Panel of Experts (1982) | Montreal Museum of Art

Jean-Michel Basquiat | LNAPRK (1982) | Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

It is universally acknowledged that 1982 was the most significant year in Basquiat's tragically short yet enduringly prolific career – it marked the 21-year-old artist's definitive entrance into the international art world: he had his first US solo exhibition at Annina Nosei Gallery in New York, and became the youngest artist ever to be invited to participate in the landmark Documenta VII exhibition in Germany. 

That year, he also returned to Italy, where he had his first-ever one-man show two years earlier, and it was during this stay that he painted several of his most respected works known as the Modena paintings, including the US$85 million Untitled (Devil) sold by Japanese Yusaku Maezawa at Phillips New York in 2022.

It may have been during these stays that Basquiat came across the Italian version of Popeye that is referenced in the present work's title. Popeye, meanwhile, refers to the original cartoon where the title character often had to undertake a boxing match to prove his spinach-induced strength – an homage to the popular boxers of the time, many of whom were also personal heroes to the artist. 

Basquiat emerged from street graffiti into the mainstream New York art scene at the mere age of 21

Untitled (1982) was sold by Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa to an Asian collector for US$85 million at Phillips in 2022

Boxing was one of the first sports where Black sportsmen prevailed. For Basquiat, a legendary champion such as Sugar Ray Robinson represented the striking dichotomy of being a Black man in America.

Despite being regarded as the greatest boxer of all time, and one of the most famous African Americans of his generation, Robinson would have suffered the indignity of not being allowed into venues due to segregation that was still widespread in America during his reign. 

And it was through mark-making that Basquiat introduced his personal heroes into the canon of American art and introspected his own experiences in the Black community. His famous © copyright symbol, for instance, was to assert his ownership as an artist, something that was denied to generations of Black artists previously. 

While the identities of the present work's two main figures could not be deciphered, as with many of his works, the composition is filled with text references to boxing: "BOXEO" on the right lower edge is Spanish for "boxing"; the "FOUR BIG" along the upper edge could be the four governing bodies of world boxing (the WBA, WBC, IBF, and the WBO); "BUM EAR" describes one of the physical effects of constantly being hit around the head. 

"BOXEO" on the right lower edge is Spanish for "boxing"

The "FOUR BIG" written along the upper edge could be a reference to the four governing bodies of world boxing

"BUM EAR" on the lower left could describe one of the physical effects of constantly being hit around the head

Interestingly, although sometimes misunderstood as a disgruntled dropout who randomly spray-painted pithy texts all over New York City, Basquiat was a voracious reader, something which his parents encouraged. 

As a child he was once struck by a car while playing softball in the street, to keep him occupied while he was laid up in hospital, his mother gave him a copy of the classic medical reference book, Gray's Anatomy

What at first might seem an odd choice to give an eight-year-old child in turn played to his eager desire for knowledge, and also fueled his artistic endeavours as his mother knew that all the great painters, including Michelangelo, had studied anatomy. And anatomical depictions would go on to play a central role in the artist's vocabulary, as seen on the right-hand side of the present canvas.

(Left) Illustration from Gray’s Anatomy (1974); (Right) Present lot 

Lot 42 A | Brice Marden (1938-2023) | Event, Oil on linen, in two parts
Painted in 2004-2007
183 x 244 cm

  • Thomas Ammann Fine Art, Zurich
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2007

Estimate: US$30,000,000 - 50,000,000

Estimated at US$30 to 50 million, late American artist Brice Marden's Event has been in a private collection since it left the studio and has never before been seen in public.

It is the sister painting to the current artist's record, Complements (2004-2007), sold for US$30.9 million at Christie's New York in 2020. If the present work reaches its low estimate, its sale will set a new record for Marden. 

Described by The New York Times as "one of the most admired and influential artists of his generation" and by The Wall Street Journal as "among the handful of living artists established enough to be considered part of art history", Marden is highly regarded for reconnecting Minimalism and Abstract Expressionism, bringing together the diagrammatic formulations of the former and the immediacy and intuitive gesture of the latter. 

Brice Marden with the present lot (right) in his studio

Brice Marden | Complements (2004-2007) | Sold: US$30,920,000, Christie's New York, 2020

"Each layer was a color, was a feeling, a feeling that related to the feeling, the color, the layer beneath it. A concentration of feelings in layers," the artist once said. 

In a six-decade career that was centered in New York, the artist experimented with colors, lines, and planes, drawing inspiration from extensive travel. The light and landscapes of Greece, for instance, inspired his monochromatic paintings of the 1970s, bringing about a new muted palette of modular greens, browns, and blacks into his canvases. 

His artistic style took a significant new turn in the 1980s after he visited Asia for the first time. Influenced by Chinese and Japanese calligraphy and Zen poems, he began to weave loops and ropes of color into webs of intersecting and rhythmic lines that covered large-scale color – which can be seen in his acclaimed Cold Mountain series. 

Brice Marden | Grove Group I (1972-1973) | The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

Brice Marden | Cold Mountain 6 (Bridge) (1989-1991) | San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Brice Marden | The Propitious Garden of Plane Image, Third Version (2000-2006) | Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

Ultimately, the culmination of his ideas and processes led to his most ambitious series: The Propitious Garden of Plane Image, which the artist regards as "summation paintings".  

In the early 2000s, Marden was pressed to complete two mural-sized The Propitious Garden paintings in time for his major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, opening in the fall of 2006.

As the two versions were evolving, however, they sparked a second set of prismatic paintings – a trio of diptychs – and he commenced work on them immediately. These newer works would become Extremes (2004-2005), now in the collection of the Centre Pompidou, Paris, Complements (2004-2007), the current auction record for the artist, and Event (2004-2007, the present lot. 

Marden called the series "Plane Image" – a phrase that summed up his lifelong resolution to synthesize the plane and the image. It was also the title he chose to give to the catalogue of his retrospective.

Other Highlight Lots:

Lot 40 A | Mark Tansey (b.1945) | Mont Sainte-Victoire #1, Oil on cavnas
Painted in 1987
172.7 x 269.2 cm

  • The artist
  • Curt Marcus Gallery, New York, 1998
  • Private collection, West Coast, 1998
  • Private collection
  • Gagosian Gallery, New York
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: US$8,000,000 - 12,000,000

Lot 32 A | Julie Mehretu (b.1970) | Mumbaphilia (J.E.), Acrylic and ink on canvas
Painted in 2018
243.8 x 182.9 cm

  • White Cube, London
  • Private collection
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: US$5,000,000 - 7,000,000

Lot 46 A | Bruce Nauman (b.1941) | Hanged Man, Neon tubing mounted on metal monolith
Executed in 1985; number two from an edition of three
214 x 152.4 x 18.4 cm

  • Galerie Konrad Fischer, Düsseldorf
  • Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
  • Acquired from the above by the late owners, 1987
  • Property from the Collection of Mary & John Pappajohn

Estimate: US$4,000,000 - 6,000,000

Lot 43 A | Yayoi Kusama (b.1929) | Enlightenment Means Living a Life Unconcernedly, Acrylic on canvas
Painted in 2008
194 x 259.1 cm

  • Gagosian Gallery, New York
  • Private collection
  • Anon. sale; Sotheby's, London, 12 February 2014, lot 35
  • Private collection
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: US$2,000,000 - 3,000,000

Lot 50 A | Nicolas Party (b. 1980) | Grotto, Soft pastel on linen
Executed in 2019
190.5 x 160.1 cm

  • Xavier Hufkens, Brussels
  • Private collection
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: US$2,000,000 - 3,000,000

Lot 48 A | Jonas Wood (b.1977) | Landscape Pot 1, Oil on canvas
Painted in 2014
299.7 x 236.2 cm

  • Gagosian Gallery, Hong Kong
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: US$2,200,000 - 2,800,000

Lot 45 A | Diane Arbus (1923-1971) | Identical twins, (Cathleen and Colleen), Roselle, New Jersey, 1966, Gelatin silver print
Printed between 1967-1969
38.1 x 36.1 cm

  • Estate of Diane Arbus
  • gifted from the above to private Japanese collectors
  • Stephen Wirtz Gallery, San Francisco
  • Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
  • acquired from the above by a private collector, 2002
  • Sotheby's, New York, April 27, 2004, lot 11
  • acquired from the above by the present owner
  • Property from the Collection of Ambassador Trevor Traina

Estimate: US$800,000 - 1,200,000

Lot 55 A | Rashid Johnson (b.1977) | Bruise Painting "U.S. Blue", Oil on linen
Painted in 2021
243.8 x 213.4 cm

  • David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles
  • Private collection
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: US$800,000 - 1,200,000

Lot 53 A | Richard Avedon (1923-2004) | Marilyn Monroe, Actress, New York City, 1957, Gelatin silver print, flush-mounted on linen
Artist's proof number two of two, aside from an edition of ten
200.3 x 77.4 cm

  • Hamiltons Gallery, London
  • acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: US$600,000 - 800,000

Lot 28 A | Takayo Yamaguchi (b.1952) | Sally and Miu-Miu, Oil and bronze leaf on canvas
Painted in 1994
157.5 x 91.4 cm

  • Ramiken, New York
  • Private collection, Los Angeles
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: US$300,000 - 500,000

Auction Details:

Auction House: Christie's New York
Sale: 21st Century Evening Sale
Date and Time: 14 May 2024 | 8pm (New York Local Time)
Number of Lots: 35