For the first time in nearly 40 years, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s monumental homage to jazz is headed to auction.
This May, the work, titled Now’s the Time (1985), will be the star lot of Sotheby’s Contemporary Evening Auction, where it is expected to fetch at least $30 million. Until now, it has resided in the collection of Peter Brant, who ranks on ARTnews’s Top 200 Collectors list.
It’s one of the most stylistically uncharacteristic entries in Basquiat’s oeuvre, which is commonly thought of as being brightly colored, with abstract elements that recall the syncopated rhythms of jazz.
Now’s the Time seems austere in comparison. It’s a seven-foot-wide recreation of the vinyl pressing of the legendary saxophonist Charlie Parker’s 1945 recording of the same name.
Basquiat was an avid jazz listener, and album collector; he had some 3,000 in his collection at the time of his death. He cited many of the genre’s greats in his paintings, but none as often, or with as much affection, as Parker. Known as “the Bird,” Parker pioneered the bebop movement, a rapid, virtuosic genre in which harmonies rose in a frenzy and miraculously converged, rather than collapsed.
In deference to Parker, Basquiat left his ego at the doorstep, making a matte black disc with only a few white inscriptions. It’s not a perfect circle—the curves are irregular, like a depthless, rotating black hole.
“In [Now’s the Time], we witness Basquiat radically simplify the explosive bravura of his street-art style to create a painting that ranks amongst the most important and visually striking masterworks in his oeuvre,” Grégoire Billault, Sotheby’s chairman of contemporary art, said in a statement. “As a final touch, he emblazons his signature copyright sign on the surface: both giving credit to Parker, and marking the painting, the declaration, and the moment as his own.”
It is, however, not even the most expensive Basquiat painting headed to auction this season. Also in May, Christie’s is set to sell a work that belongs to fashion designer Valentino Garavani for more than $45 million.