A skull painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat sold for $93.1 million at Christie’s in New York on Tuesday night, becoming the artist’s second-most expensive work to sell at auction.
Artnet reports that the 1983 painting titled In This Case was initially estimated to fetch a price of $50 million. At more than six-by-six feet the canvas depicts a large skull set against a ruby-red background, with a blazing eye, protruding green teeth, and fractured anatomy.
The painting was last purchased publicly in 2002 when it sold at Sotheby’s for just under $1 million. It then sold again privately in 2007 for an undisclosed sum. This time, in 2021, the seller was reportedly Italian businessman Giancarlo Giammetti, co-founder of the Valentino fashion house.
Basquiat pieces have always enjoyed market success. Even during Basquiat's lifetime, he was a market star, making $1.4 million a year. However, prices for the artist’s work have only truly taken off in recent years, driven primarily by demand from a small group of billionaires.
Paintings with skull imagery are among Basquiat’s most iconic and sought-after works, a memorable logo harkening back to Basquiat’s origins as a street artist. In 2017, the record price paid for a Basquiat at auction was set when another painting of a skull sold for $110.5 million at Sotheby’s in New York.
The record sale of In This Case not only affirms the high desire for Basquiats, but it also offers the first glimpse of the demand for high-end art as the world begins to emerge from the pandemic. It's a phenomenon we could see play out again sooner rather than later. On Wednesday, Sotheby’s will auction its own Basquiat, Versus Medici, which currently carries an estimate of $50 million.