Two of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s most recognisable paintings still in private hands are heading to auction next month in New York, where they are expected to fetch more than $75m collectively.
The monumental painting El Gran Espectaculo (The Nile) (1983), which features symbols of African culture, particularly Egypt, has resided in the collection of Italian fashion designer Valentino Garavani for nearly two decades. The painting is expected to to sell for about $45m when it goes to auction at Christie’s New York, where it has the highest estimate of any work on offer in the house’s 20th and 21st century sales. (Last May, the auction house’s top lot was Andy Warhol’s 1964 canvas Shot Sage Blue Marilyn, which fetched a record-breaking $195m, including fees.)
In one section of El Gran Espectaculo, the Ancient Egyptian god Osiris is depicted leading a boat down a river, while scrawled phrases and symbols throughout the work draw on connections between Africa and the African diaspora.
According to Christie’s, the painting previously belonged to publisher Enrico Navarra, a leading collector of Basquiat’s work who died in 2020. But for nearly two decades, it has been in Garavani’s private collection, and could be seen hanging in the background of a photograph taken of Garavani at his New York home in 2010 for Vanity Fair. In 2021, Valentino co-founder and Garavani’s longtime partner Giancarlo Giammetti sold another Basquiat painting for $93.1m (including fees), the second-highest result for a work by the artist at auction.
El Gran Espectaculo has been featured in a number of public exhibitions, including the Whitney Museum of American Art’s posthumous retrospective in 1992. That exhibition later travelled to the Menil Collection in Houston, the Des Moines Art Center in Iowa and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts in Alabama. The painting will be offered as part of Christie’s 21st century evening sale on 15 May at Rockefeller Center in New York, and part of the proceeds will go toward the Accademia Valentino.
Three nights later over on York Avenue, another well-known work by Basquiat will head to auction. Now’s the Time (1985) is the artist’s re-creation of the vinyl pressing of Jazz legend Charlie Parker’s 1945 record of the same name. The circular acrylic and oil stick painting on plywood measures seven feet across and is more austere than much of Basquiat’s other work.
Now’s The Time will make its auction debut in Sotheby’s evening sale of contemporary art on 18 May and has been consigned by magazine publisher Peter Brant, the only collector who has ever owned the painting. Most recently, Now’s The Time was a centrepiece of Seeing Loud: Basquiat and Music, an exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts that dove into the influence music had on Basquiat’s work. Sotheby’s estimates the painting will sell for more than $30m.
The market for work by Basquiat, who died at age 27 in 1988, has only grown larger in the 35 years since his death. The artist’s record at auction is $110.5m (including fees), set in 2017 when Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa bought an untitled skull painting from 1982 at Sotheby’s New York.
“The genius of Basquiat is undeniable. His presence and influence break boundaries, spanning fashion, art, and pop culture. The impact that he continues to have on culture is inescapable, and only continues to expand,” Alex Rotter, Christie’s chairman of 20th and 21st century art, said in a statement.