Get cracking, sell your house, throw in the keys for the merc, because one of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s works from the apex of his career is going under the hammer this winter. Said auction is the Phillips’ Evening Sale of 20th Century & Contemporary Art where a grand many other magical things will go up for eager art aficionado’s and collectors alike.
Cheyenne Westphal, Phillips’ Chairwoman, states, “Portrait of A-One A.K.A. King is an exemplary work from the apex of Basquiat’s career, painted in 1982 when he was producing important works of art, free from the constraints and pressures of gallerists and the art market.”
The artist was known for his unique mix of graffiti and colour on canvas that he used to depict the world around him. He absorbed the life that surrounded him and translated it in his own style using all manner of drawings, poetry and painting.
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The painting depicts, as the title states, a caricature of his frequent collaborator and fellow New York graffiti artist A-One standing before a wall covered in tags, as a nod to Basquiat’s community and time as a street artist. It also features the artist’s signature crown motif, which became one of the most enduring and recognizable pictorial tropes in Basquiat’s oeuvre.
Originally the Mugrabi family laid claim to the six-foot-by-six-foot work in 1986 at a Sotheby’s New York Sale for a mere US$18,150. Currently, the painting’s seller is unknown, a mystery in itself.
“This portrait has long been recognized across the globe for its significance, most recently having been included in the groundbreaking exhibition Keith Haring | Jean-Michel Basquiat: Crossing Lines at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. Its inclusion in our November Evening Sale marks the first time in over three decades that the work will be offered to the public.” Westphal added.
At the auction the Portrait of A-One A.K.A. King is now expected to sell for between US$10 to US$15 million, a far cry from the meagre 18k originally paid for it. This is what they mean by art appreciates with time.
Hitting the auction block alongside the portrait at Philips are Joan Miró’s Danse (Figures) (estimated between US$250,000 and US$350,000) and Robert Rauschenberg’s Untitled (estimated between US$250,000 and US$350,000).
For anyone that’s already in New York, the masterpieces can be viewed at the grand opening of Phillips’ new location in Southampton, New York. But as is with most coronavirus time activities, it’s probably best to admire what you can from afar.
Previous to this Phillip’s auction there have been many sales of Basquiat works, some fetching swoon-worthy prices in the tens of millions. In May 2016, his Untitled was auctioned for US$57,285,000: the most expensive Basquiat piece to date at the time. That same year Johnny Depp, a long time collector sold several of his own collection.
The year after records were broken again when a Basquiat sold for US$110.5 million to a Japanese billionaire. In June 2019, Phillips also put up Pink Elephant with Fire Engine for the block after it had been exhibited internationally for the last 35 years.