Warhol and Basquiat Piece Heads To Auction For Estimated $18M

Created by Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat from 1984 to 1985, “Untitled” is one of the most significant collaborative pieces to enter auction in decades. 

Artistic collaborations happen quite a lot, but it’s not every day that two of the world’s legendary contemporary artists join forces to create an incomparable piece. Such is the case for “Untitled” (1984), a 10 x 13-feet painting that Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat created from 1984 to 1985. 

The piece previously sold for $2.65 million in a 2010 Sotheby’s auction. This year, it will be going up for auction for the first time since then, with Sotheby’s also managing its sale. However, the auction house estimates that the piece could sell for $18 million, reports Daniel Cassady of ART News, which is six times higher than the painting’s previous value. This isn’t particularly surprising, considering that previous works of the two legendary artists have sold for millions and broken records. Sotheby’s describes the piece as the “highlight” of its Contemporary Evening Auction in May. 

Warhol and Basquiat's "Untitled" (1984)
Warhol and Basquiat’s “Untitled” (1984)/Photo from the Sotheby’s website

“Nearly 40 years later, the collaborative works are now, rightfully, seen as a landmark and an integral part of both artists’ bodies of work, synthesizing their contrasting styles and visions with total iconoclasm. The series showcases not only the distinctive genius of two singular artists, but also an entirely new artistic voice created in a momentary flash that would never again be replicated,” shares Gregoire Billault, Sotheby’s Chairman of Contemporary Art, in an official statement

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The Merging of Minds

As Billault has stated, “Untitled” is an amalgamation of the distinctive styles that made Basquiat and Warhol so popular within the art world. It features Warhol’s signature screen printing technique and corporate, mechanically-produced imagery, such as brand logos. Contrasting these more commercial elements are the dynamic strokes and expressive figures common in many of Basquiat’s groundbreaking works. 

Exhibition poster for Warhol Basquiat Paintings at Tony Shafrazi Gallery, New York, 1985
Exhibition poster for Warhol Basquiat Paintings at Tony Shafrazi Gallery, New York, 1985/Photo via Instagram @sothebys

Besides being a hallmark work of contemporary art, the piece also represents the friendship and creative partnership between the two visionaries, which was also the subject of Anthony McCarten’s 2022 dramatic stage play The Collaboration. The relationship itself contained perspectives from two different eras, as Sotheby’s states that Basquiat was a young yet already famous talent in the art world by 1983, while Warhol’s career skyrocketed years before in the 1960s. 

It was Zurich-based gallerist Bruno Bischofberger who introduced the two greats in 1982, and shortly thereafter, they began their artistic collaborations, writes Susan Delson of History

Mesmerizing Collaboration 

According to Sotheby’s, Warhol and Basquiat would take turns adding their layers of imagery. The auction house adds that the two artists built upon the “exquisite corpse” tradition of the Surrealist movement, where artists would collaborate by adding spontaneous images without showing them to one another, creating a truly hybrid work.

Warhol and Basquiat at work
Warhol and Basquiat at work/Photo via Instagram @sothebys

Keith Haring, another art world behemoth, would watch some of these sessions, remarking: “It was a physical conversation happening in paint instead of words.”

Warhol and Basquiat would go on to create 160 works over two years, and many of these pieces—including “Untitled” (1984) —became the centerpieces of the successful 2023 retrospective Basquiat x Warhol: Painting Four Hands, with another iteration of the exhibition at the Brant Foundation in New York in the same year. 

The Then and Now 

Though many art circles today hold high regard for these Basquiat and Warhol works, this wasn’t always the case—especially when the artists first revealed them to the public in the 1980s. People were quick to criticize Warhol’s partnership with Basquiat, stating that the older artist was simply riding on the coattails of the popular new talent. 

"Untitled" (1984) with other Warhol and Basquiat pieces at Basquiat x  Warhol, The Brant Foundation, New York (November 2023 to January 2024)
“Untitled” (1984) with other Warhol and Basquiat pieces at Basquiat x Warhol, The Brant Foundation, New York (November 2023 to January 2024)/Photo from the Sotheby’s website

Sadly, the negative receptions eventually led to the end of this artistic collaboration. Then in 1987, Warhol passed away from surgery complications, before Basquiat died from an overdose just 18 months after in 1988, as Delson writes for History

Though things came to a sudden end for both artists, they still experience great posthumous success. Over time, perceptions on their joint works have greatly changed, with many regarding them as valuable works in their own right, and ones representative of the amazing things that can happen when two great minds meet. 

Banner photo from the Sotheby’s website.

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