Basquiat’s US$31m Painting Up for Auction to Become the Most Valuable Western Art in Asia

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s landmark work, Warrior is set to go under hammer at Christie's Hong Kong, expecting to fetch HK$240m to HK$320m (US$31m to US$41m). If the price realized falls within the estimated range, it will become the most expensive Western artwork sold in Asia, beating out the record set by a Gerhard Richter’s abstract painting - which was sold last year for HK$214m (US$27.7m).

The masterpiece will be auctioned off on March 23, in a single-lot evening sale, to be held in Hong Kong in conjunction with the auction house’s London sale week. 

 

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) | Warrior, 1982

Acrylic, oil stick and spray paint on wood panel

Dimensions: 183 x 122 cm

Estimate: HK$240,000,000 - 320,000,000

 

The present lot, measuring 183 by 122 cm, was painted in 1982, during the pinnacle of Basquiat’s career when his artistic language reached maturity. The painting depicts a courageous warrior in full length, with his silver sword unsheathed and barreling his penetrating eyes directly towards the viewer. 

The auction house describes the work as a “semi-autobiographical” piece. As a Haitian and Puerto Rican descent, Basquiat was highly aware of the lack of representation of African American population in art history. Through much combative energy, the powerful work confronts the issue of inequality in the sociopolitical environment.

 

Installation view of Warrior (second right), Akira Ikeda Gallery of Tokyo

 

Warrior last went under hammer in 2012 and realized £5.6m (US$8.7m), yet the pre-sale estimate this time sees almost a four-fold increase, gunning for US$31m to US$41m.

When asked if the estimate is an ambitious one, Jacky Ho, Head of Evening Sale, 20th / 21st Century, Christie’s Asia Pacific said, “Basquiat’s personal record at auction jumped from 2012’s US$26.4m to US$110m in 2020. Even for an oil stick on paper work is now US$10.8m. Asian collectors' interest for Western artworks has been surging since 2012."

 

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988), the most expensive American artist in history

 

While Basquiat was never hesitant to explore the themes of race and African American culture, do the predominant themes connect as much as they do with Western collectors with their Asian counterparts?

Warrior speaks to many. From the striking use of colors to composition, the painting bears much intensity as Basquiat’s artistic output reached its full potential in 1982, when this stunning work was created.” said Ho. “We feel like this particular work stands out the most during his works created during 1981 to 1985, and resonates to both Western and Asian collectors. It is also a testament to the everlasting sense of courage that truly transcends time, especially when we are all warriors nowadays, in face of the pandemic,” he said.

 

Another artwork by Basquiat, Irony of Negro Policeman, 1981, which also explores the theme of race

 

While many of Basquiat’s consignments are typically seen in London or New York salerooms, Christie’s decided to take the masterpiece to Hong Kong this time. “The demand for stunning artworks by blue-chip artists has proved to be as resilient as ever, especially among Asian collectors. Hong Kong is such a dynamic hub for the art market as a whole. Regardless of where a rare artwork is sold, eventually it finds its way back to Asia,” said Ho. 

The current record for the artist, is a 1982 painting measuring 183.2 by 173 cm - slightly bigger than Warrior, which was sold in a 2017 Sotheby’s New York sale for US$110.5m. The buyer was Japanese billionaire fashion tycoon and art collector Yusaku Maezawa, who later put the blockbuster painting on a world tour.

 

Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, who acquired the 1982 painting of a skull for US$110.5m, once revealed his plan to take the phenomenal work to the Moon as the first-ever lunar tourist

 

Once sold, the present work will eclipse the record set by a Richter’s 1987 abstract painting, to become the most expensive Western artwork sold at an auction in Asia.

The current top three are as follows:

  • Gerhard Richter (b.1932) | Abstraktes Bild (649-2), HK$214,631,000
  • KAWS (b.1974) | THE KAWS ALBUM, HK$115,966,000
  • David Hockney (b.1937) | 30 Sunflowers, HK$114,827,000 

All current three records were realized in 2019 and 2020, at Sotheby's Hong Kong auctions, proving Asian collectors' strong desire for Western artworks. Such a high-value work like the present one is typically secured by a house guarantee or third-party guarantee in order to reduce risk. While Christie's did not give much information regarding any financial arrangements for Basquiat's masterpiece at this stage, the artwork surely is the auction house's hope to outpace its rival, especially in Hong Kong's bustling art market.

 

Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild (649-2), sold for HK$215m (US$27.7m) in October 2020, Sotheby’s Hong Kong

 

Jean-Michel Basquiat was first known for his spray painted crowns and scribbles in the streets of New York. He was a subversive graffiti artist and street poet, until he rose to stardom in the 1980s. He now stands as the most expensive American artist today. Together with the “Pope of pop” Andy Warhol, the two renowned artists are not only influential in their times, but connected on a personal level, and made several collaborative works. 


Auction Details:

Auction house: Christie’s Hong Kong

Preview (by appointment):

  • New York | February 19 - 24, 2021
  • Hong Kong | March 15 - 23, 2021

Sale: We Are All Warriors – The Basquiat Auction, Hong Kong

Sale date: March 23, 2021 | 10pm HKT

Venue: 22/F, Alexandra House, 18 Chater Road Central, Hong Kong