NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - Joining the rarefied US$100 million-plus club in a sales room punctuated by periodic gasps from the crowd, Jean-Michel Basquiat's powerful 1982 painting of a skull broughtUS$110.5 million (S$153 million) at Sotheby's, to become the sixth most expensive work ever sold at auction.
Only 10 other works have broken the US$100 million mark.
"He's now in the same league as Francis Bacon and Pablo Picasso," said the dealer Jeffrey Deitch, an expert on Basquiat.
The sale made for a thrilling moment at the postwar and contemporary auction as at least four bidders on the phones and in the room sailed past the US$60 million level at which the work had been guaranteed to sell by a third party.
The winning bid was taken on the phone by Yuki Terase, who oversees Japanese business development for Sotheby's in Hong Kong, against the dealer Nicholas Maclean, who was hunched over in the room on the phone with a buyer. The buyer was Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese billionaire, who purchased a Basquiat last year for US$57.3 million.
Basquiat's vibrant painting of a face in the shape of a skull set an auction record for a work by any American artist, beating Andy Warhol. It was also the first work created since 1980 to make over US$100 million.
"I almost had to pinch myself to see if I was awake," said Larry Warsh, a longtime Basquiat collector. "I applaud the compulsion of someone to buy such an iconic and important work."
"It is a bit intemperate," he added, "but that's not exactly a new development."