Japanese collector buys $134 million of art in two days in New York

People observe the artwork 'Untitled' made by artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.
People observe the artwork 'Untitled' made by artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - Mr Yusaku Maezawa, the 40-year-old founder of a Japanese fashion website, continued his art shopping spree on Wednesday (May 11), helping Sotheby's reach US$242.2 million (S$331.5 million) in sales at its contemporary art auction even as the art market continues to contract.

He bought two works at Sotheby's contemporary art evening sale in New York, Adrian Ghenie's Self-Portrait As Vincent Van Gogh for US$2.6 million, and Christopher Wool's white canvas with "Chameleon" spelled out in chunky black letters for US$13.9 million. The two purchases brought his two-day tally to US$98 million.

At Christie's on Tuesday, he dropped US$81.4 million on five artworks, including US$57.3 million for a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting depicting a horned devil's head with streams of red, green and black paint, the Contemporary Art Foundation, a Tokyo-based organisation he founded in 2012, said in a statement.

Mr Maezawa, the founder of online retailer Zozotown, said that he plans to open a private museum in his hometown of Chiba outside Tokyo to show his collection, which he has developed over the past 10 years. "The moment I first saw the painting at the auction preview, the piece overflowing with his passion and technique, I felt shivers all over my body," he said in the statement. "Regardless of its condition or sales value, I was driven by the responsibility to acknowledge great art and the need to pass on not only the artwork itself, but also the knowledge of the artist's culture and his way of life to future generations."

Asian collectors went shopping at Christie's contemporary art auction on Tuesday, snapping up works and setting records for Western artists.

The US$318.4 million tally for the postwar and contemporary art evening auction in New York represented a 52 percent decline from a similar sale a year ago, but six artist records were broken and the results fell within the estimated range of US$280.6 million to US$391.2 million.

Estimated at more than US$40 million, Basquiat's 1982 work was sold by Mr Adam Lindemann, a gallerist and collector who bought it for US$4.5 million at Sotheby's in 2004. The sale set a record for the artist. Sales results include buyer's premiums; presale estimates do not.

Mr Maezawa, bidding through Christie's specialist Koji Inoue, also snapped up a sculpture by Jeff Koons, a painting by Richard Prince, a mobile by Alexander Calder and a light piece spelling "Eat War" by Bruce Nauman. Runaway Nurse, Prince's 2007 work, went for US$9.7 million, a record for the artist.

Mr Maezawa's purchases accounted for one-quarter of the evening's tally.

Other Asian buyers, bidding in the salesroom, won a piece by Yves Kleinthat for US$3.3 million and a painting by Roy Lichtenstein for US$8.7 million.