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The Art of Jean-Michel Basquiat: Scarce, Costly and Coveted

Cheim and Read’s recent exhibition of approximately 35 works on paper by Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-88), from Feb 17-March 26, consisted entirely of those on loan from the estate and private collectors, with nothing for sale. “We showed the work for the pleasure of it,” gallery director John Cheim told ARTnewsletter, adding that the gallery does

NEW YORK—Cheim and Read’s recent exhibition of approximately 35 works on paper by Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-88), from Feb 17-March 26, consisted entirely of those on loan from the estate and private collectors, with nothing for sale. “We showed the work for the pleasure of it,” gallery director John Cheim told ARTnewsletter, adding that the gallery does have in its inventory a work or two by Basquiat that are for sale, at asking prices of more than $1 million.

The Basquiat estate is not currently represented by any gallery, although the artist’s works were sold in the past through the Robert Miller Gallery. However, Cheim’s connection to the artist is already well-established, since he is currently a member of the Basquiat authentication committee along with Gerard Basquiat, the artist’s father, who controls the estate.

The estate has “not that much” material, consisting of works on paper and paintings, though some of the pieces are “great things,” Cheim says. Nonetheless, he reports, “there is a scarcity of great pieces for sale,” and most of the artist’s important work is currently in collections or available only on the secondary market. “There’s just little out there,” he adds, noting that when such items come up for sale, they are more likely to appear at auction than at galleries.

Prices for Basquiat’s drawings and paintings on paper range from $50,000/750,000, although most sales are in the $50,000/200,000 realm, says Cheim. The prices for paintings on canvas range from $800,000/5 million.

In contrast to some artists who came to prominence in the 1980s, Basquiat’s market has remained strong. Two major museums—the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York, and the Museo d’Arte Moderna at Lugano, Switzerland—are holding retrospective exhibitions of Basquiat’s paintings and works on paper, continuing through June 5 and June 19, respectively.

The top auction price to date is the $5.5 million paid for a 1982 acrylic (spray paint) on canvas, Profit I, which was sold in 2002 at Christie’s and exceeded the $3/5 million estimate, followed by $4.6 million for another 1982 painting in acrylic and oil stick on canvas, Untitled (Two Heads on Gold), at Sotheby’s in 2003.

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