Jean-Michel Basquiat’s most iconic work is set to be auctioned by Christie’s Hong Kong on 23 March in a livestreamed, singe-lot evening sale. With an estimated value between US$31,000,000 and US$41,000,000, Basquiat’s magnum opus will be the most expensive Western artwork to be sold in Asia. The event, dubbed We Are All Warriors – The Basquiat Auction, is part of Christie’s spring Season of 20th Century sales.
A Coloured Man’s, Colourful History
Jean-Michel Basquiat was born in 1960 to a Brooklyn-born mother of Puerto Rican heritage and a Haitian immigrant father. Due to his parent’s combined ancestry, Basquiat was fluent in Spanish, French and English from an early age. His linguistic abilities allowed him to read French symbolist poetry in their original language which ultimately influenced his art later in his life. Following his parent’s divorce, Basquiat eventually left his father’s home before being adopted by a friend’s family. In September 1978, he dropped out of high school at age 17.
During the 1970s Basquiat was often homeless, getting by through various means such as selling hand-painted postcards and T-shirts. He was a patron of many downtown clubs like Mudd Club and Club 57, along with other emerging artists and musicians of the era. This gave Basquiat opportunities to showcase his art, eventually strengthening his position as an icon within the Lower East Side artistic community.
The 1980s saw the creation of some of Basquiat’s best works and the height of his artistic career. In 1982, he became the youngest artist to be included in Documenta, an international contemporary art event held every 5 years. His works during this period were strongly influenced by famous Black personalities such as Dizzy Gillespie and Muhammad Ali. Utilising strong paint slashes and brushstrokes, Basquiat sought to capture his subject’s essences, favouring a focus on their intelligence and devotion to their craft over physical appearance. The result works were scrappy and abstract, reminiscent of his roots in street graffiti.
The fame and attention Basquiat gained during this period took its toll on the artist and he became addicted to heroin and cocaine. In 1988, Basquiat succumbed to a heroin overdose at the age of 27.
Jean-Michel Basquiat painted Warrior at his peak in 1982 and was part of a series he created between 1981 and 1982. Other notable pieces from the series included La Hara and Irony of Negro Policeman. Deemed by many to be Basquiat’s finest work, Warrior exuded the artist’s uninhibited and brilliant energy. The painting portrays a fearsome warrior wielding a silver blade, gazing at the viewer with red, penetrating eyes. Warrior is interpreted as a semi-autobiographic work, reflecting on and rebelling against the socio-political inequality that people of colour face, as well as their lack of representation in a white-dominated art world.
Warrior has been featured in several exhibitions worldwide since it was first unveiled at the Akira Ikeda Gallery in Tokyo in 1983. It was even a centrepiece in the Brant Foundation Art Study Center’s 2019 blockbuster exhibition in New York City.
Basquiat’s masterpiece shows us just why he is regarded as one of the world’s greatest artists of the last 50 years. Warrior will be auctioned in a format that calls attention to the artist’s global appeal. The auctions, scheduled for 23 March, represents a significant event for Asia’s Western art market and alludes to Christie’s regional success following a record-breaking season of art sales in Hong Kong last December.
For more information on the auction, please visit Christie’s website here.