The years 1981 to 1984 were a brief period of intense artistic output that cemented Jean-Michel Basquiat’s place within the canon of art history. Initially working under the moniker SAMO, Basquiat, a friend of artist Keith Haring and actress Patti Astor, became an integral member of the social circle around the Mudd Club, the night club–gallery hybrid that defined downtown that decade. In 1981, Mudd Club cofounder Diego Cortez put the 21-year-old Basquiat—then known mainly as a street artist—in a group show called “New York/New Wave,” and he was well on his way to fame from there.
By 1983, Basquiat had found his way into the posse of the former Met curator Henry Geldzahler. That year, a discussion between Geldzahler and the artist published in Interview magazine limned the now-famous key elements of Basquiat’s work: royalty, heroism, and the streets. Despite his youth, the artist’s creative agility and his political acumen allowed him to emerge as major force unifying street art with painting, in effect bridging the gap between modes that have historically been considered high and low art. By the time Basquiat died at age 27 in 1988, he had become one of the top artists working in New York.
Over the subsequent decades, Basquiat’s stature as an artist would be reevaluated by the very institutions in which he remains under-represented. Basquiat is among the most highly valued artists in the art market, and his work, all completed in the brief period between 1981 and 1984, regularly sells at auction for tens of millions of dollars. Below, a look at the top 10 public sales of the artist’s works.