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$110 million Basquiat masterpiece is the most expensive US artwork

A masterpiece by Jean-Michel Basquiat has sold at Sotheby’s for $110 million, making it the most expensive artwork by any American artist.
The untitled work is only the eighth painting in history to top the $100 million mark at auction, and also set a record as the world’s most expensive artwork created after 1980.

The painting was the subject of an epic 10-minute bidding war, which resulted in a final price of $110,487,500 – almost doubling its initial estimate.

The winning bidder was the Japanese art collector and entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa, who plans to exhibit it in his own personal museum.

The painting had originally been acquired by a collector back in 1984 for just $19,000, and had remained unseen by the public for more than 30 years before hitting the block in New York.

"Tonight, Jean-Michel Basquiat entered the pantheon of artists whose works have commanded prices over $100 million, including Picasso, Giacometti, Bacon, and Warhol," commented Grégoire Billault, Head of Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Department in New York.

"This extraordinary canvas from 1982 has broken so many benchmarks, but those of us lucky enough to have been in its presence will only remember it’s awesome power. To think that it was created by a virtually-unknown 21-year old is humbling. We are thrilled that it was purchased by Yusaku Maezawa for his planned museum so others will have a chance to experience its magic firsthand."

Untitled was painted by Basquiat in 1982, during the breakthrough period of his career as he rose from an anonymous New York graffiti artist to a star of the international art world.

However, this fame brought with it a heavy emotional price, and the young artist subsequently struggled with depression and drug addiction, before tragically dying of a heroin overdose in 1987 at the age of just 27.

Today he is regarded as one of the most important American artists of the 20th century, and his artworks reside in the world’s most important museums and private collections.

"When I saw this painting, I was struck with so much excitement and gratitude for my love of art," said Mr. Maezawa, who made his fortune as the founder of the successful Japanese e-commerce site Start Today.

"I want to share that experience with as many people as possible around the world – regardless of age or background or whether they are a collector or not.

"One day the painting will be a centerpiece of my museum in my hometown Chiba, but before then I wish to loan this piece – which has been unseen by the public for more than 30 years – to institutions and exhibitions around the world.

"I hope it brings as much joy to others as it does to me, and that this masterpiece by the 21-year-old Basquiat inspires our future generations."

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