Ahead of its main series of New York night sales scheduled for this spring, Christie’s is putting a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat on the market for the first time. His 1982 triptych Portrait of the artist as a young wreck (1982) will be on sale at Christie’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale in May. Bidding for the nearly seven-foot-wide work will start at around $30 million, a Christie’s spokesperson said, although an estimate is only available on request. Christie’s has yet to announce an on-sale date.
Basquiat prices have seen a rapid increase over the past year. Only seven works by the artist, who died in 1988 at the age of 27, have been sold at auction for more than 40 million dollars; three of them were sold last year. Most of them were produced in the early 1980s, the era of the artist’s career that collectors and dealers consider to be the most valuable.
Portrait of the artist as a young wreck is a three-part painting on wood panel that features on its rightmost panel a leering face showing its teeth. The painting also vaguely alludes to Basquiat’s fame and contains death-related imagery. The word “Dead” is written at the bottom of the central panel of the painting on a cross design. In another section, a sketched crown – a recurring motif in Basquiat’s work – appears. The painting’s triptych format has been seen as a reference to Northern Renaissance painting.
The work has been in the same private collection for 27 years. Presented for the first time at the Fun Gallery in New York the same year of its production, the piece has traveled to Basquiat exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum in New York, the Fondation Beyeler in Switzerland, the Museum of Modern Art in City of Paris and at the Louis Vuitton Foundation, also in Paris, in 2019.
Ana Maria Celis, head of 21st century art sales at Christie, described the painting in a statement as “a rare work of self-portraiture” which was made as an “altar of art and graffiti artists”. .
Alongside this lot, another rare work by Basquiat that belonged to Keith Haring until the artist’s death in 1990 will also be sold by Christie’s. Presented alongside the self-portrait at the Fun Gallery in 1982, See Plate 3 (1982) is a two-foot tall sculpture in the form of a black wooden box raised on a four-legged pedestal. The words “HEAD OF A FRYER” are inscribed on one of the four sides of the box; on the other hand, a crown is drawn. It will be offered at an estimate of $4-6 million.