Sotheby’s auction house in New York made news and set a new record at its recent auction on May 18, 2017. Jean Michel Basquiat’s Untitled (1982) was originally estimated to fetch almost $60m. That appraisal alone shocked people, then the bidding began. All eyes were on lot #24 when it came up for bid. The room fell silent as the the bidding started at $57m. Initially slow, the bidding soon picked up, and after ten minutes (to audible gasps from the audience) the painting sold for $110.5m — the highest sum ever paid at auction for a U.S.-produced artwork ($22,000 per square inch).
This continues a trend that has gained momentum in recent years, the increasing value of art made in America.
In 2013 Andy Warhol’s “Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)” broke Sotheby’s record for a piece by an American artist when it sold for $105.4m.
European art continues to command impressive sums, as well. In 2015 Modigliani’s “Reclining Nude” sold for a record $170.4m, while Pablo Picasso’s masterpiece “Les Femmes d’Alger” broke the record for most expensive artwork sold at auction. The final price was a whopping $179.3m. Both of these auctions were at Christies in New York City.
Also at Christies in 2013, Francis Bacon’s triptych “Three Studies of Lucien Freud” fetched $142.4m after only 6 minutes on the auction block.
Jeffrey Deitch, an expert on Basquiat declared “He’s now in the same league as Francis Bacon and Pablo Picasso”. Additionally Basquiat’s painting “Untitled” set several more records on that recent Thursday night: Highest price paid for a work by any American artist, highest price paid for a work by an African-American artist and the first work created since 1980 to fetch over $100m.
Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa bought the work for almost double the artist’s previous record. “I am happy to announce that I just won this masterpiece,” Maezawa said in an Instagram post.
In 2016 Basquiat became the highest-grossing American artist at auction, generating $171.5m from 80 works, according to the Artprice database.