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Anticipation is building for the major spring auctions in New York in May, one of the biggest market moments of the year. This series of Modern and Contemporary art sales sees Christie’s and Sotheby’s go head to head in the heavyweight stakes, not just during the sales, but from months before when they start gathering works to sell.

The catalogues are now appearing, along with announcements from each house declaring their top lots for the sales. And this year, it seems there will be a battle of Basquiats. Sotheby’s and Christies have both stated that they will be offering works by the street artist turned art world star, Jean Michel Basquiat (1960-1988).

The painting at Christie’s is an early work by the artist, La Hara (1981), which will feature in their Post War and Contemporary Art auction in New York on 17 May with a price tag of $22million to $28million; a significant hike since it sold at Sotheby’s in 1989 for $341,000.  Depicting a white police officer, the painting shows Basquiat’s love of graffiti, prose and brut techniques, accompanied by vivid colours, and comes to the market from the collection of billionaire Steven A. Cohen.

The Sotheby’s work, Untitled, was also created in the early and desirable stage of his career. It was painted in 1982 and shown in a small group exhibition at Alexander Milliken Gallery in New York before entering a private collection two years later having been bought at auction for $19,000. Remarkably, it has been virtually unseen during the subsequent 34 years. Sotheby’s are banking on recent demand and Asian interest for the artist and have guaranteed the work, which they expect to sell for around $60million, a price that would set a new record for the artist (currently $57.2million), and represent a 300,000% return for the sellers.


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