A work by Jean-Michel Basquiat featured behind the artist on the 1985 cover of The New York Times Magazine—a story that confirmed the artist’s stardom—sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong for HKD 289 million ($37.2 million) with buyer’s premium on Thursday. The untitled triptych is now the eighth most expensive Basquiat work sold at auction.
The triptych painting, which depicts two figures—one painted fully-black with teeth and intestines exposed and another riding what appears to be a donkey—sold during a live-streamed evening sale at Sotheby’s Hong Kong curated by Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou. Chou appeared on ARTnews’s list of 50 collectors under 50 to watch.
Just two phone bidders from Hong Kong competed for the work, which was sold with an irrevocable bid. It went to a buyer on the phone with Sotheby’s Asia chairman Nicholas Chow. The work hammered at HKD 250 million ($32.2 million), below its HKD 255 million ($32.8 million) low estimate, amid a silent auction room.
Despite the work’s visibility in an important milestone in the artist’s career, it failed to generate the bidding drama many top Basquiat lots typically do at auction. Some reasons for that may lie in the fact that the untitled work is without the signature features many collectors look for in Basquiat’s works: images of skulls, the artist’s distinctive crown image, the coded words or scrawls. The work also falls far from the coveted year, 1982.
The anonymous seller of the work purchased it from an American collector at an unknown date. The previous owner purchased it at Christie’s London in 2005 for just £1 million.
The sale comes after a series of strong prices achieved for Basquiat’s work, including the $93 million paid last month for one of the artist’s “Skull” paintings sold by Valentino cofounder Giancarlo Giammetti and the $50 million Versus Medici (1982) sold at Sotheby’s in New York this May. Thursday’s result is just behind the $41.9 million paid for Warrior (1982) sold during Christie’s single-lot sale in Hong Kong in March from the collection of German-American real estate mogul Aby Rosen.