How Basquiat Became the $60 Million Man

Such eight-figure sums are a stunning jump in value for a piece that sold for just $19,000 in 1984 to two collectors of emerging artists, Jerry and Emily Spiegel. The work hasn’t been on the market since.

High prices are hardly new for Basquiat, art experts note. Last year, he became the highest-grossing American artist at auction, generating $171.5 million from 80 works, according to the Artprice database. The auction high for Basquiat has increased at least tenfold in the last 15 years, soaring to $57.3 million in 2016 with Christie’s spring sale of a 1982 “Untitled” Basquiat owned by the New York collector Adam Lindemann, in which the artist depicts himself as a horned devil amid orange, red, white and black brush strokes.

“As the market was accelerating, you had distinguished connoisseurs of modern art who had no hesitation about putting Basquiat beside Picasso,” said the dealer Jeffrey Deitch, who gave the eulogy at the artist’s funeral. “Already he was in a different league than almost any other contemporary artist.”

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“Untitled,” by Jean-Michel Basquiat, brought $57.3 million at auction in 2016.

Credit
2017 The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris/ARS, New York; Photograph by Kena Betancur/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The question is whether price levels will remain this high. Typically, people in the auction world say, a surge in prices prompts collectors to jump on the bandwagon, consigning their works by the same artist. Indeed, after Christie’s success with its Basquiat last spring, it seemed as though everyone wanted in on the action.

There are no fewer than 16 Basquiats on offer at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips’s evening auctions this season, which together represent an estimated minimum value of about $119 million — out of a total of $690 million for the…

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