Basquiat Painting To Sell For $45 Million In Upcoming Auction

A portion of the auction proceeds for Jean-Michel Basquiat’s masterpiece will go to an arts and fashion school in Rome.

Christie’s has recently announced that El Gran Espectaculo (The Nile) will be the “jewel” of their 21st Century Evening Sale to be held at the Rockefeller Center on May 15, 2023. The valuable piece was last sold to Italian fashion designer Valentino Garavani at a Sotheby’s auction in 2005 for $5.2 million, and has been in his collection ever since. 

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The work’s sale figure in the upcoming auction could make it one of the most expensive  Jean-Michel Basquiat pieces to have ever been sold publicly. Before being bought in 2005, it was owned by renowned gallerist and collector Enrico Navarra and exhibited in various retrospectives of Basquiat’s work—one of them being the first posthumous solo survey organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1992. 

Photo via Instagram @basquiatkingpleasure

“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,” shared Alex Rotter, Christie’s Chairman of 20th and 21st Century Art, in the auction house’s latest statement. 

A percentage of the work’s auction proceeds will be donated to the Accademia Valentino in Rome, a school that nurtures students in the fields of art and fashion. While the institution shares a name with the Valentino brand, it’s considered a separate entity (though they have the same founders). Another part of the proceeds will also go to the expansion and renovation of Valentino’s headquarters

Unpacking History and Culture

The late Jean-Michel Basquiat was an American Neo-Expressionist artist known for his use of rich signs and iconography. His name has long been one associated with luxury, as pieces from his limited oeuvre have fetched incredibly hefty sums at auctions. 

Jean-Michel Basquiat/Photo via Instagram @basquiatofficial

Basquiat was only 22 years old when he painted El Gran Espectaculo (The Nile) in 1983. Also referred to as History of the Black People, the 68 by 141 inch work is classified as a triptych—a visual piece composed of three sections or panels. The American artist often used art to process and convey concepts of race and culture. El Gran Espectaculo is no exception, as it incorporates distinctly African motifs and mythologies to explore the Black experience. 

The triptych’s first panel features African masks and voodoo iconography, while the second showcases Egyptian figures and hieroglyphics (such as a sickle boat with the god of the dead Osiris). Finally, the third section of the piece contains imagery expressing the “contemporary themes of racist subjugation,” as described in its Sotheby’s catalog entry

Christie’s Head of the 21st Century Evening Sale, Isabella Lauria, described the work as “the quintessential history painting and one of the most iconic Contemporary works of all time.” She added: “It is a canonical masterwork, representative of the origins of Basquiat’s now ubiquitous visual language that has been cemented within our cultural consciousness […]”

Banner Photo by Brad Branson via Instagram @basquiatofficial.

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