US$60m Basquiat work tops New York contemporary art auction

Business | 28 Apr 2017 7:01 pm

A selection of works from the post-war period to the present wil be on offer at the Sotheby's contemporary art evening auction on May 118 in new York.

The sale season is led by Jean-Michel Basquiat's Untitled, 1982, a work that has been virtually unseen since it last appeared on the market in 1984. The work is estimated to fetch in excess of $60 million.

Also leading the auction is Roy Lichtenstein's Nude Sunbathing, a vibrant-red example of the late artist's work, as well as top quality examples from Agnes Martin, Rudolf Stingel, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol and Mark Grotjahn.

The pre-sale exhibition opens in New York on May 5.

Jean-Michel Basquiat completed Untitled in 1982 at a time when he was virtually unknown to the art world. Exhibited only in a small group exhibition called Fast at Alexander Milliken Gallery in New York from June to July of that year, Untitled entered the distinguished private collection from which it is being offered just two years later in 1984, when it was purchased at auction for US$19,000.

Never loaned for public exhibition since its acquisition 33 years ago, the appearance of the painting to market is made all the more remarkable given that it has been known only from a small thumbnail picture in the artist’s catalogue raisonné.

Untitled is among the most important paintings by the artist still in private hands.

Intricate layers of forcefully applied and impastoed oilstick, acrylic, and spraypaint in a spectrum of electric color coalesce in an intensely worked, rich surface that exemplifies Basquiat’s singular command as a master colorist and draftsman. Exploding in a torrent of irrepressible gestural energy that reflects Basquiat’s early beginnings in graffiti, the painting further inaugurated the beginnings of a new mode of figurative painting that took hold of the New York art world in downtown Manhattan in the early 1980s.

Basquiat’s exceptional rendering of a single skull-like head draws many parallels with the artist’s most celebrated works, perhaps most significantly Untitled from 1981 in the collection of The Broad, Los Angeles. The canvas is populated with a range of Basquiat’s greatest icons: most remarkably dominated by the complexly detailed anatomical head, the three-pointed crown and all-over scrawled typography.

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