Basquiat’s 1982 masterpiece from billionaire Yusaku Maezawa valued at US$70m in star-studded sale

In December 2021, Yusaku Maezawa became the first Japanese civilian to stay on the International Space Station. Within the art world, the Japanese fashion magnate is equally trailblazing. In 2017, he acquired Basquiat's masterpiece, Untitled, for US$110 million dollars – crowning the latter as the most expensive American artist ever.

On 18 May, another Basquiat Untitled painting from Maezawa’s Collection will be auctioned at Phillips New York’s 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale. Estimated to fetch in the region of US$70 million dollars, payments in cryptocurrency – Ether or Bitcoin – will be accepted.

Alongside Basquiat, Western Masters – including Yves Klein, Alexander Calder, Roy Lichtenstein, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and Mark Rothko – will also be featured in the auction.

Yusaku Maezawa and Russian cosmonaut, Alexander Misurkin 

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)

In 1998, Maezawa founded Zozotown – Japan's largest 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.

Warhol's Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster, 1963) garnered a then record-breaking US$105.4 million dollars | Sotheby's New York, 2013

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

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, which exceeded expectations  setting a new auction record for Basquiat. The buyer was Yusaku Maezawa. Until now, this present painting is still the third most expensive Basquiat painting sold at auction. According to Forbes, Maezawa is worth around US$2 billion dollars. So, with these financial resources, why is Basquiat's masterpiece sold now after being kept for six years?

Maezawa posing near Basquiat's orange-red Untitled 

Spanning more than five metres wide, it is one of Basquiat's largest paintings

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

“I believe that art collections are something that should always continue to grow and evolve,” Maezawa said in a press release. “In the near future, I plan on exhibiting my ever-emerging art collection at a museum I am currently planning to create. I look forward to the day I can share it with you,” he added.

The Japanese tycoon intends to establish a private art museum in his hometown of Chiba Prefecture. The statement above implies that this present painting’s sale funds will be used to purchase different types of art for exhibition.

In recent years, Basquiat took the auction world by storm and his works are increasingly sought after by Asian collectors – frequently fetching astronomical prices. Christie's, another international auction house, also auctioned his paintings in Shanghai for the first time in March 2022.

Whether this painting can set another auction record remains to be seen, and below is a recap of Basquiat’s auction records:

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) | 183.2 x 173 cm | Christie’s New York, May 2016 | US$57,285,000  

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)

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)

Basquiat's Untitled (Wooden Board Triptych), 1985 was his second most expensive painting sold at an Asian auction 

Basquiat's Untitled (1982) was his third most expensive painting sold at an Asian auction 

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.

The demonic protagonist featured in this present Untitled painting 

Jean-Michel Basquiat

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.

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

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

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

Lot 22 | Andy Warhol | Flowers, Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas

Created in 1964
121.9 x 121.6 cm

  • The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., New York
  • Thomas Ammann Fine Art, Zurich
  • Private Collection, United States
  • Phillips, New York, May 15, 2014, lot 25
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: US$8,000,000 – 12,000,000

Lot 26 | Andy Warhol | The Star (Greta Garbo as Mata Hari), Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas

Created in 1981
152.4 x 152.4 cm

  • Ronald Feldman Fine Arts Inc., New York
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1989

Estimate: US$7,000,000 – 10,000,000

Lot 6 | Mark Rothko | Untitled, Oil on paper mounted on Masonite

Created in 1959
96.5 x 63.2 cm

  • Galerie D. Benador (Jacques Benador), Geneva
  • Private Collection, Europe
  • Christie’s, New York, November 20, 1996, Lot 17
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: US$6,000,000 – 8,000,000

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

Auction Details:

Auction House: Phillips New York
Sale: 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale
Date and Time: 18 May 2022 | 7pm (New York local time)
Number of lots: 37