Auction  March 24, 2021  Rozalia Jovanovic

Basquiat’s Warrior Breaks Records at Auction

Courtesy Christie's.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Warrior, 1982. Acrylic, oilstick, and spray paint on wood panel. 72 x 48 in. Detail.

On March 23, Basquiat’s seminal work, Warrior, sold at Christie’s in a live-streamed sale for $41.9 million (HKD 323,600,000) just above its high estimate of $31 million - $41 million (HKD 320,000,000) becoming the most expensive artwork ever sold in a sale in Asia and is the fourth-highest price achieved by Basquiat at auction.

Courtesy Christie's.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Warrior, 1982. Acrylic, oil stick, and spray paint on wood panel. 72 x 48 in.

It’s also worth noting that the record for Basquiat at auction—$110.5 million, for Untitled (1982)—was set in 2017 by a sale to Japanese collector and billionaire entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa (that work will one day be housed in a private museum in the collector’s hometown of Chiba, Japan). Maezawa is also responsible for Basquiat’s second-highest record at auction, achieved the year before for Untitled (1982), which sold for $57 million.

The work was offered in a single-lot sale entitled “We Are All Warriors,” within Christie’s Spring Twentieth Century Season, which also includes a recently rediscovered landscape by Van Gogh. The work comes amid an economic downturn due to the pandemic, which saw global art sales down by twenty-two percent compared to 2019, according to The Art Market 2021, a report recently released by Art Basel and UBS.

Sales at public auction reached $17.6 billion in 2020, a thirty percent decline from $25.2 billion in 2019 and marks the second year of falling aggregate values “bringing the market to its lowest level in a decade.”

The work, an acrylic, oil stick, and spray paint on wood panel, was created in 1982 when Basquiat was at the pinnacle of his powers. It portrays a full-length warrior brandishing a silver sword, and directly confronting the viewer with its fierce red eyes and wild green hair. The Christ-like figure was a signature subject for the storied artist who lived a short but turbulent life that ended in a drug overdose in 1988 at the age of twenty-seven.

The work was first exhibited in Tokyo in 1983 at Akira Ikeda Gallery and has been featured in numerous important Basquiat publications and exhibitions around the globe. It was among the works at the 2019 blockbuster exhibition Jean-Michel Basquiat, which launched the Brant Foundation Art Study Center’s East Village location in New York City.

The sale of the work is a watershed moment for Western art in Asia. “The market for Western Art in Asia is maturing very rapidly,” said Ms. Evelyn Lin, Deputy Chairman & Co-Head of Department of Twentieth / Twenty-First Century Art, Christie’s Asia Pacific noting that it comes on the heels of a record-breaking season of twentieth and twenty-first century art sales in Hong Kong last December, “which showcased the strongest offering of Western artworks to date, and set phenomenal prices fueled by Asian collectors.”

The top price achieved for the One sale in July 2020 was for Roy Lichtenstein’s Nude With Joyous Painting, which realized $46,242,500. That went to an Asian collector. But according to Lin, Asian collectors are not just snapping up established artists. They have also embraced emerging talent as well.

In 2020, a number of world auction records were set for younger artists in Asia. Dana Schutz’s Elevator (2017) sold in December at Christie’s Hong Kong for $6,456,499 (HKD 50,050,000 ) including fees, according to Artprice. This surpassed its $2.6 million estimate setting a new record for the artist at auction. That sale also saw records set for Nicholas Party, Amoako Boafo, and Shara Hughes.

© Tom Powel Imaging: Courtesy The Brant Foundation, Greenwich, CT. Artwork- © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York.

Installation view of the blockbuster Basquiat show at the 2019 Brand Foundation Study Center featuring Warrior.

Lin also notes that Western art is getting a boost by the wider art ecosystem, which includes the opening of world-class museums such as M +, a well-established international gallery scene in Hong Kong that includes big galleries like David Zwirner to smaller well-respected outfits like Denny Dimin, as well as key art fairs such as Art Basel.

Basquiat is a particularly good fit for Asian collectors, according to Lin, because he “represents the universality of the language of art. He absorbed knowledge from classic art history, Abstract Expressionist, graffiti, and street culture of the lower east side, as well as his own childhood memories and multi-cultural experiences, and combined them into artworks that transcends time and cultures.”

She notes that he also had a tight relationship with Asia, having been to Japan six times during his lifetime and even modeled for Issey Miyaki.

The work has sold at auction three times before and has been in the Mugrabi Collection, according to the provenance. In 2005 it achieved $1.8 million at Sotheby’s New York, in 2007, it brought in $5.6 million at Sotheby’s London, and in 2012 it achieved $8.7 million at Sotheby’s London.

About the Author

Rozalia Jovanovic

Rozalia Jovanovic is a writer and editor born and raised in New York who has covered the art world for nearly a decade. She has been the Editor-in-Chief of artnet News and digital director of Galerie magazine. A MacDowell fellow, Rozalia studied art history and communications at the University of Pennsylvania and received an MFA in fiction from Columbia University.

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