Epic Basquiat to lead Post-war and Contemporary sale in New York

Brett Gorvy, Chairman and International Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art, discusses Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled, a momentous canvas from 1982

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s explosive tour de force Untitled, 1982, is to lead Christie’s Evening Sale of Post-War and Contemporary Art on 10 May in New York. It is estimated to realise in excess of $40 million. 

Executed in Modena, Italy, in the prime year of Basquiat’s short and brilliant career, Untitled is an epic painting, its monumental size and visceral energy marking it as one of the artist’s seminal works. 

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988), Untitled, 1982. Acrylic on canvas. 94 x 197 in. (238.7 x 500.4 cm.) Estimate on Request. This work is offered in the Post-war and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 10 May at Christie’s New York

As well as having been chosen for the cover of the artist’s catalogue raisonné, Untitled  has been included in every major Basquiat retrospective. It contains Basquiat’s heroic portrait of himself as a fiery black devil rising amidst an explosion of paint that has been thrown onto the canvas in the manner of Jackson Pollock. 

It is the dynamism and spontaneity with which Basquiat constructs his painterly surface that distinguishes this work as a masterpiece, especially considering it was painted when he was just 22 years old. ‘Untitled is a remarkably powerful canvas, which instantly engulfs any viewer standing in its monumental presence,’ says Brett Gorvy, Christie’s International Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art. 

Basquiat’s dramatic figure dominates the canvas, with a face that displays the full force of his painterly prowess. This central subject has often been identified as a self-portrait of the artist. In contrast to the precise definition of the devil figure, Basquiat orchestrates a flurry of loose drips and splashes of paint together with expressionistic brushstrokes that show him to be a phenomenal colourist.

Untitled  is the largest in a series of paintings which the New York artist undertook during two periods he spent in Modena in the spring of 1981 and 1982. He had initially been invited to Europe by Emilio Mazzoli for his first one-man show after the dealer had seen the artist’s work in January 1981 at the legendary New York/New Wave show at New York’s PS1. 

‘We are confident that the supreme quality and rarity of “Untitled” will command tremendous interest from the world’s leading international collectors’ Brett Gorvy

Following his initial trip Basquiat returned to Modena in March 1982, and it was during this stay that he painted Untitled, as well as Profit 1 and Boy and Dog in a Johnnypump, which are widely considered to be the artist’s three most important paintings of this period.

Basquiat enjoyed a marquee year in 1982. As his star rose in New York, he was rewarded with a solo show at the Annina Nosei Gallery. On a trip to Los Angeles he was introduced to — and proved to be a major hit with — influential collectors such as Eli and Edythe Broad, Douglas S. Cramer and Stephane Janssen. He was also the youngest of 176 artists invited to take part in Documenta 7  in Germany. 

Basquiat’s work found favour with many influential critics who had been yearning for the return of ‘the expressive’ ever since the triumph of Minimalism in the late 1960s and 1970s. In Basquiat they found a new champion who clearly revelled in the joy of the artist’s hand.

‘Due to its striking visual impact, its demonic central figure and its significance within the canon of Basquiat’s career, we are confident that Untitled’s supreme quality and rarity will command tremendous interest from the world’s leading international collectors, and it is set to realise one of the highest prices for the artist at auction,’ remarks Brett Gorvy.

The top five prices for Basquiat works at auction are all held by Christie’s, led by Dustheads, 1982, which realised $48,843,752 on 15 May 2013.