The auction house hasn’t picked just any Jean-Michel Basquiat painting as the highlight of its upcoming “Contemporary Art Evening Sale” in Hong Kong. “Untitled (Red Warrior)” was created in 1982, a pivotal year in which the American artist painted nearly 200 canvases. And if few of these appear at auction, it’s because only a rare few of Basquiat’s “Warrior” artworks remain in private hands.
The artwork offered at auction features Basquiat’s favorite motif, the lone hero, whom he often depicts with an upraised arm or brandishing various objects, such as arrows and swords. “The warrior can be interpreted as a self-portrait, a triumphal symbol of the Black artist conquering the invisible oppressor within the image, succeeding in an art world that was predominantly white,” explains Sotheby’s.
High prices in Asia
This is the first time “Untitled (Red Warrior)” has appeared on the market, making its debut in Asia. It is estimated to fetch between 150 million and 200 million Hong Kong dollars (roughly $19.2 million-$25.7 million). Still, there is little chance that the painting will exceed the $110.5 million fetched by “Untitled” in 2017 at Sotheby’s New York.
However, bids could rise quickly, given Asian collectors’ appetite for artwork by the enfant terrible of contemporary art. Christie’s made headlines last February when “Warrior” sold for $41.8 million at one of its Hong Kong auctions, making this particular Basquiat warrior painting the most expensive Western artwork ever sold at auction in Asia.
A safe bet
This impressive performance came as no surprise to the New York art dealer, Christophe Van de Weghe. “Basquiat is one of the strongest markets coming out of the pandemic,” he told The New York Times at the time of the sale. “It’s worldwide. You can sell Basquiat, like Picasso, to someone in India or Kazakhstan or Mexico. You can have a 28-year-old spending millions on Basquiat and you can have a guy who is 85. He appeals to all kinds of people, from rappers to hedge-fund guys.”
Basquiat’s popularity has soared in recent years, fueling the exorbitant prices his works can fetch at auction — not to mention in contemporary art fairs. One of his diptychs titled “Hardware Store” was offered for $40 million during the last edition of Art Basel. A “very correct” price, according to gallery owner Christophe Van de Weghe, even in the absence of the American and Asian collectors who usually lead the way at Basel. Proof, if any were needed, that Basquiat is a pretty safe investment.