You must have cookies enabled to use this website.

Basquiat… a market idol

[09 Jan 2018]

Jean-Michel BASQUIAT’s ascension to the rank of market superstar was rapid. A pioneer of Graffiti and Street Art, Basquiat’s work has become emblematic of the creative vitality of an era. In 1979, works by the young American were shown in a Bronx exhibition alongside works by Jenny Holzer, Kiki Smith and Kenny Sharf. That same year, his work was included in New York / New Wave event alongside works by Keith Haring, Robert Mapplethorpe and Andy WARHOL (1928-1987). One of his first buyers, the latter quickly became a mentor-enabler to the young artist, and his celebrity status undoubtedly helped Basquiat gain greater exposure. Their meeting marks both the start of a true friendship and of a creative symbiosis that lasted until Warhol’s death in 1987. With Warhol’s blessing, Basquiat became the youngest artist (aged 21) invited to the 982 Documenta 7 in Kassel, Germany. The following year, he exhibited at the Whitney Biennial of American Art in New York and at the gallery of Larry Gagosian, a major art dealer who guaranteed financial support and success.

The artistic and market power of Basquiat’s œuvre is in many ways the result of a heady cocktail of highly-creative acquaintances, powerful supporters and the exceptionally dynamic and speculative atmosphere of New York in the 1980’s. The intensity and brevity and of his life generated an œuvre that is electrifying but relatively limited in quantity. Before his death from an overdose at the age of 27, Basquiat produced just over 800 paintings and more than 1,500 drawings, works nowadays sought-after by all the major collectors and museums in the world. With demand largely exceeding supply, the prices of his works have posted one of the most outstanding progressions in Contemporary art: $100 invested in Basquiat’s work in the year 2000 is worth an average of $1,098 today, a value accretion of +998%. In financial terms, Basquiat is now a high-end art market heavyweight, on roughly the same level as Pablo Picasso.

Basquiat is today the most “important” artist on the Contemporary art market, ahead of Warhol and all the others. For his high-quality works, demand is greater than supply, and the prices paid reflect the cupidity and wealth of the world’s richest buyers. Only the world’s top HNWIs can afford masterpieces costing tens of millions of dollars. Western public museums no longer have the means to acquire such works. New York’s prestigious MoMA is just one of the museums that missed the boat by failing to buy important Basquiat works before his prices soared. Today, this absence is widely recognised as one of the venerable institution’s major omissions.

Basquiat’s masterpieces are therefore increasingly ending up in private collections with the most expensive piece now owned by the Japanese businessman Yusaku Maezawa, a 41-year old with a passion for art and design. In preparation for his Chiba museum, Maezawa spent nearly $57.3 million on 10 May 2016 (at Christie’s) for a large untitled Basquiat canvas from 1982 (previously acquired for $4.5 million at Sotheby’s London on 23 June 2004). The work therefore gained nearly $53 million in just 12 years and added $10 million to his previous auction record of $48.8 million (Dustheads, 1982, at Christie’s New York in 2013).

On 18 May 2017 Mr Maezawa made headline news by successfully bidding a Basquiat painting past the 100 million dollars threshold for the first time. Indeed, the final bid of $110.5 million at Sotheby’s in New York represented another mini-revolution in the art market world: acquired for $19,000 in 1984, the painting sold for 5,800 times that price 33 years later, setting a new global record for the Bronx-born graffiti artist. This exceptional result puts Basquiat among a small circle of artists whose works have fetched over $100 million at auction. There are now seven: Picasso, Modigliani, Bacon, Giacometti, Munch, Warhol and Basquiat… the only Contemporary artist in the list.

Basquiat has emerged as one of the few artists whose work appeals simultaneously to the ultra-luxury market and to the masses: alongside his most prestigious and most expensive works there are also works in limited editions that are available for a few hundred dollars. In historical terms, Jean Michel Basquiat may be seen as the founding father of one of the most profitable artistic movements of our time: Street Art.. the art market’s latest Eldorado.

By using this website, you accept the use of cookies for better analysis and relevance. For more information, Confidentiality and personal data protection charter OK