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$110.5-Million Man: Yusaku Maezawa Buys Basquiat, Setting Auction Record for Any American Artist

Sotheby’s Contemporary auction tonight was a mostly workmanlike affair, with one shining exception: Basquiat’s vibrantly scary 1982 “Untitled” skull, the undisputed star in this week of major auctions in New York, leered at his puny presale estimate (“in excess of $60 million”), and powered his way to a $98-million hammer price ($110.5 million with buyer’s premium).

Basquiat, “Untitled,” 1982, $110.5 million at Sotheby’s
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

The buyer, Yusaku Maezawa, announced his coup on Instagram, before Sotheby’s could fire off an exultant press release:

Maezawa also purchased the previous Basquiat record-holder, sold at Christie’s a year ago:

Basquiat, “Untitled,” 1982
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

His latest trophy set a new auction record for any work by an American artist. According to the press release, the painting “will eventually be housed in a museum based in Mr. Maezawa’s hometown of Chiba, Japan,” which (according to a profile in Forbes magazine) he “plans to build.” Sotheby’s threw in a bit of free advertising for Maezawa’s business, describing him as “the founder of e-commerce giant, Start Today, and ZOZOTOWN, the virtual mall on Japan’s largest fashion e-commerce site.” Basquiat “Untitled” teeshirts, anyone?

The top lot accounted for more than a third of the 50-work auction’s $319.2 million total (with buyer’s premium).

Here’s my Twitter Storify on how the high point of tonight’s auction went:

an ArtsJournal blog