Jean-Michel Basquiat (French: [ʒɑ̃ miʃɛl baskija]; December 22, 1960 – August 12, 1988) was an American artist. Basquiat first achieved fame as part of SAMO, an informal graffiti duo who wrote enigmatic epigrams in the cultural hotbed of the Lower East Side of Manhattan during the late 1970s where the hip hop, post-punk, and street art movements had coalesced. By the 1980s, he was exhibiting his neo-expressionist paintings in galleries and museums internationally. The Whitney Museum of American Art held a retrospective of his art in 1992.
Basquiat used social commentary in his paintings as a “springboard to deeper truths about the individual”, as well as attacks on power structures and systems of racism, while his poetics were acutely political and direct in their criticism of colonialism and support for class struggle. On May 18, 2017, at a Sotheby’s auction, Basquiat’s 1982 painting, also Untitled, created with oil stick and spray paint and depicting a skull, set a new record high for any U.S. artist at auction, selling for $110,500,000.
Basquiat sold his first painting in 1981, and by 1982, spurred by the Neo-Expressionist art boom, his work was in great demand. In 1985, he was featured on the cover of The New York Times Magazine in connection with an article on the newly exuberant international art market; this was unprecedented for an African-American artist, and for an artist so young. Since Basquiat’s death in 1988, his market has developed steadily – in line with overall art market trends – with a dramatic peak in 2007 when, at the height of the art market boom, the global auction volume for his work was over $115 million. Brett Gorvy, deputy chairman of Christie’s, is quoted describing Basquiat’s market as “two-tiered. […] The most coveted material is rare, generally dating from the best period, 1981–83.”