The upcoming New York autumn auction season is set to unveil a significant event in the art world, featuring a long-lost Jean-Michel Basquiat self-portrait. This larger-than-life eight-foot-tall masterpiece, known as "Self Portrait as a Heel (Part Two)" created in 1982, is anticipated to take center stage at Sotheby's evening auction of contemporary art on November 15th.
Expectations are high, with estimates ranging between a staggering $40 million to $60 million, potentially making it one of the most valuable pieces by Basquiat to be auctioned.
If the painting achieves a sale within the estimated range, it will rank among the most valuable of Basquiat’s auctioned
However, it's improbable that it will reach the staggering pinnacle set by his untitled skull painting (also from 1982) at Sotheby's New York in 2017, which reached an astounding $110 million, including fees.
This extraordinary painting, last displayed publicly nearly 25 years ago, is an embodiment of Basquiat's time in Los Angeles. It was created during his West Coast debut at a show organized by Larry Gagosian, the influential dealer. Basquiat, who found refuge in Gagosian's Venice residence before establishing his studio nearby, poured his experiences in Los Angeles into this autobiographical artwork, capturing the essence of his time in the city.
Insights from those close to Basquiat shed light on the significance of this period in his life. According to Tamra Davis, a friend and director of the documentary "Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child," Los Angeles provided Basquiat with a canvas to "recreate himself." The city's anonymity allowed him a newfound freedom to express himself artistically, leading to an outpouring of creativity during his stay.
The term "heel," recurrent in three of Basquiat's artworks from this period, carries multifaceted meanings. From indicating societal outcasts to wrestling terminologies referencing the antagonist, Basquiat’s use of the term might have positioned himself as an unconventional figure within the art world—an anti-hero of sorts.
The rarity of "Self Portrait as a Heel (Part Two)" adds to its allure. Previously owned by the early Basquiat supporter Stéphane Janssen, the painting traveled through various hands before finding its way to the upcoming Sotheby's auction. It's a piece that has gone unseen for decades, having last been publicly exhibited in 1999, fetching $772,500 at a Christie's New York auction.
With its reappearance at Sotheby's New York this month, this long-lost Basquiat masterpiece is sure to attract many bidders, adding to the statistics of an artist who, according to Artprice, has been in first place amongst the top 10 contemporary artists at auction for thirteen consecutive years. In 2021/2022 Basquiat generated $235.5M at auction, with El Gran Espectaculo (The Nile) from 1983 the only Contemporary work to fetch over $50M.
El Gran Espectaculo (The Nile), 1983, acrylic and oilstick on canvas mounted on wooden supports, in three parts, 68 x 141 in.
As Self Portrait of a Heel (Part Two) re-enters the limelight, its sale may potentially one again redefine his auction records, serving as a pivotal moment in the ongoing narrative of Basquiat's unparalleled impact on contemporary art.