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Basquiat's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Derelict will lead Christie's New York 21st Century Evening Sale
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Derelict. triptych—acrylic, oil, oilstick and hardware on hinged wood construction. Overall: 81 ⅝ x 82 ⅜ x 3 ⅝ in. (207.3 x 209.2 x 9.2 cm.). Executed in 1982. © Christie's Images Ltd 2022.

NEW YORK, NY.- Christie’s will present Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Derelict, 1982 (estimate on request) as a leading highlight in the 21st Century Evening Sale this May in New York City at Rockefeller Center. This rare work is executed across three large conjoined panels, the construction of which was executed by the artist. Standing as both self-portrait and altarpiece, it represents a highpoint in the artist’s brief but explosive career.

Created in the artist’s Crosby Street studio, this masterwork reflects the raw energy and excitement of Basquiat’s practice in 1982. Executed at the highpoint of his career, it was included in the artist’s seminal show at Fun Gallery (November - December 1982), widely considered the best exhibition of his lifetime. One of the most remarkable works that Basquiat ever produced, this monumental painting synthesizes the artist’s masterful painterly abilities with his early experience of life on the streets. It contains all of the artist’s celebrated motifs: his signature three-pointed crown, his anatomical studies, his evocative words, and his vast array of expressive painterly gestures, standing as an encyclopedic manifestation of the artist’s career. As such, it has been included in many seminal Basquiat retrospectives globally including the Brooklyn Museum (2005-2006), Fondation Beyeler and Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (2010-2011), and Fondation Louis Vuitton (2018-2019). Having been in the same collection for over two decades, this May will be the first time it has appeared at auction.

Ana Maria Celis, Head of Christie’s New York 21st Century Evening Sale, remarks: “We are truly thrilled to offer Portrait of the Artist as a Young Derelict by Basquiat as a leading highlight of our 21st Century Evening Sale during this Spring’s Marquee Week. This is a rare work of self-portraiture, containing a rich multitude of references that touch upon all aspects of Basquiat’s life—ranging from his childhood to his meteoric rise to fame to ruminations of his own mortality. Its magnificent structure evokes the grandeur of altarpieces of the Northern Renaissance, with a highly unique picture support that classifies it among the most special within the artist’s oeuvre.”

During a time period when graffiti artists were largely criminalized, this work can be seen as Basquiat’s altar to graffiti art and artists. Its creation predates and somewhat foretells the story of Michael Stewart, a young Black graffiti artist and close friend of Basquiat, who was arrested and subsequently died of injuries sustained while in police custody in 1983. As Keith Haring said: “[Basquiat] was completely freaked out. It was like it could have been him.” Painted one year earlier, this work has been said to foreshadow this event— as well as the fate of the artist himself.

In the work, Basquiat portrays one of his iconic ‘heads’ on the side panel amongst a cacophony of words, signs, and symbols that serve as cultural markers for moments of the past, present, and future. The title also serves as a reference to James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, demonstrating Basquiat’s preoccupation with literature and poetry. The spontaneous and frenetic combination of linguistic, figurative, symbolic and abstract elements come together in this masterwork in a fantastic linguistic conflation of sense and nonsense.

The sale will also be highlighted by another work by Basquiat, See Plate 3, 1982 (estimate: $4,000,000-6,000,000). This work, one of the rare sculptures by Basquiat, was held in the collection of Keith Haring until his death in 1990.The object debuted along with Portrait of the Artist as a Young Derelict at Fun Gallery in 1982. It has also been widely exhibited in major international Basquiat exhibitions and retrospectives, including Whitney Museum of American Art (1992-1993), Brooklyn Museum (2005-2006), traveling exhibition organized by Fondation Beyeler (2010) and Fondation Louis Vuitton (2018-2019).

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