A Rare Basquiat Self-Portrait May Fetch $60 Million At Auction

The public last saw “Self-Portrait as a Heel (Part Two)” in a 1999 auction; now, the rare Basquiat will be going under the hammer again, and may be among the late artist’s most valuable works. 

Many know the late Jean-Michel Basquiat as one of the 20th century’s most prominent contemporary artists. Most works by the American visionary, who specialized in neo-expressionism, have sold for high prices and are status symbols in their own right. Of course, Basquiat was more than an art superstar, as his works tackled significant themes on Black identity, culture, and politics. Today, the world continues to marvel at the unique artistic voice present in his works. A recent example of this is “Self-Portrait as a Heel (Part Two),” which the public hasn’t seen in over 20 years—until now. 

READ ALSO: Cultural History: Basquiat’s “El Gran Espectaculo” To Lead Auction For An Estimated $45 Million

Jean-Michel Basquiat's "Self-Portrait as a Heel (Part Two)" (1982, acrylic and oilstick on canvas, 96 x 61½ inches)
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “Self-Portrait as a Heel (Part Two)” (1982, acrylic and oilstick on canvas, 96 x 61½ inches)/Photo from the Sotheby’s website

The self-portrait is one of three in a series of works that Basquiat created during a particularly prolific period in Los Angeles. The piece is an impressive eight-feet in height, making it quite valuable, as very few pieces of its size and quality have appeared at auction, as per Artnews. The last similar piece that went under the hammer was an untitled skull painting that sold for $110 million in 2017

Jean-Michel Basquiat
Jean-Michel Basquiat/Photo via Instagram @basquiatofficial

A Valuable Basquiat Portrait

“Self-Portrait as a Heel (Part Two)” will be the star lot of Sotheby’s contemporary evening sale in New York, and is expected to fetch $40 to $60 million, according to The Art Newspaper. The painting comes from an anonymous consignor, who acquired it from London gallery Blain Southern before its closure. It carries a guarantee and an irrevocable bid that ensure its sale. Should it fetch an amount within the given estimates, it will be one of the artist’s most valuable works to date. 

A close-up of Basquiat's portrait
A close-up of Basquiat’s portrait/Photo from the Sotheby’s website

The work is currently on display at Sotheby’s New York galleries for public viewing before its auction on November 15. 

Prolific Period

Basquiat spent much of his time in the New York art scene, and already gained recognition within the city early on in his career, as per Barron’s. However, he also worked in Los Angeles during the 1980s, which was a notably productive period in his creative career. He enjoyed the freedom that came with a sense of anonymity, as not many people in the West Coast knew of him. 

In the 2010 documentary Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, his friend Tamra Davis revealed that the he set out to recreate himself during his time in the California city. 

Jean-Michel Basquiat
Jean-Michel Basquiat/Photo via Instagram @basquiatofficial

He created two other works that serve as partners to the portrait, namely the first “Self-Portrait as a Heel” and “Hollywood Africans.” The other self-portrait sold for $5.9 million in a 2010 Christie’s auction, while “Hollywood Africans” remains in the permanent collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art, according to Artnews

Basquiat's "Hollywood Africans" (1983, acrylic and crayon on canvas)
Basquiat’s “Hollywood Africans” (1983, acrylic and crayon on canvas)/Photo from the Artchive website

Belgian collector Stéphane Janssen, an early supporter of Basquiat’s works, acquired “Self-Portrait as a Heel (Part Two)” from art dealer Larry Gagosian, who organized the artist’s first show in the West Coast. During its last public appearance in the 1999 auction, the portrait fetched $772,000. 

Perceptions of the Self 

“Self-Portrait as a Heel (Part Two)” is one of the very few paintings that Basquiat explicitly titled as a self-portrait, including its counterpart “Self-Portrait as a Heel.” Both incorporate the word “heel,” which is slang for “punk” or “delinquent.” However, it could also allude to professional wrestling, where a “heel” is the villain or foil to a hero, as per Artnews. posits that the portrait may be a reflection of Basquiat’s identity as an “anti-hero” and underdog in both society and the art world.

"Self-Portrait as a Heel (Part Two)"
“Self-Portrait as a Heel (Part Two)”/Photo from the Sotheby’s website

In an official statement on the work, Sotheby’s added: “Amidst a cacophony of fragmented body parts upon a luminescent green field, Basquiat’s collective image emerges piece by piece in his monumental Self-Portrait as a Heel (Part Two), wholly enveloping the viewer with the artist’s profound understanding of selfhood at the pinnacle of his brief but explosive career.” 

Jean-Michel Basquiat at work
Jean-Michel Basquiat at work/Photo via Instagram @basquiatofficial

Indeed, the appeal of self-portraits lies in their ability to reveal an artist’s perception of themselves and their place in the world, providing an in-depth personal narrative that can only be gleaned through the visual medium. Through his self-portraits, Basquiat depicts himself as a composite—an individual made from various perceptions. This, according to Sotheby’s, not only refers to how he sees himself, but also “what others will inevitably perceive and identify him as.” Undoubtedly, Basquiat has left a strong impression on the art world, and this particular portrait plays a special part in cementing his legacy within the contemporary canon.

Banner photo from the Sotheby’s website.

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