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Why is this painting worth $110m?

BBC News logo BBC News 19/5/2017
Untitled painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat © EPA Untitled painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat

Given that Yusaku Maezawa has paid $110.5m (£85.4m) for Jean-Michel Basquiat's painting, one has to accept that to at least one person, it is worth $110.5m.

I have to say it strikes me as a bonkers price to pay. It's not that Basquiat wasn't a good artist, he was.

I couldn't put him in the same bracket as a Rembrandt or a Picasso, Cezanne or Manet, but it's perfectly reasonable to argue that he has his place in art history and fits in within the canon of Western art.

There is a line that can be drawn from Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Picasso which arrives at Basquiat's graffiti inspired expressionist paintings.

You can see the influence within them of Jean Dubuffet's Art Brut, Jackson Pollock's early surrealism and Keith Haring's post-pop creations.

They are poetic, political and powerful.

But it's difficult to know where the value lies.

Is it in the aesthetic quality of the artwork? Or is it in the romantic story associated with the artist who in latter years, maybe since Julian Schanbel's biopic, has become something of a mythical figure?

This file photo taken on May 5, 2017 shows a Sotheby's official speaking about Untitled, a 1982 painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat during a media preview at Sotheby's in New York.: A Sotheby's official talks about the painting © AFP A Sotheby's official talks about the painting

I suspect the latter plays a large part, particularly it has been reported Maezawa wants to use the painting as a foundation work in his new museum in Japan.

The question is, is this the peak for a Basquiat - who was prolific in his short life - or just the beginning of what might become a Basquiat boom?

I imagine there are collectors who own pieces by him (but the majority are still in private hands) who will be on the phone to one of the big auction houses to see what theirs might be worth.

What's for sure, is that Basquiat artworks are now out of reach of any UK institution to address the fact there are no examples of his work in prominent UK galleries.

Which is a shame - especially as there were opportunities in the past when his prices were less high.

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