30 Years After His Death, Jean-Michel Basquiat Is Still an Enigma

A painting by the artist sold for $110.5 million in 2017.

Jean-Michel Basquiat
Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat paints in 1983 in St. Moritz, Switzerland. (Lee Jaffe/Getty Images)
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In 2017, a painting by artist Jean-Michel Basquiat sold for $110.5 million, making it the sixth-most-expensive work of art ever purchased at auction. It also set the record for an American artist. Basquiat is not the first painter to have a canvas sell for what might seem like an obscene price, but it did make people question: Was Basquiat considered as great an artist as Pablo Picasso? Or was he only as expensive to own?

The artist became famous in the early 1980s, and his work started selling at a brisk pace. At one point Basquiat himself said he was worried he had become a “gallery mascot.” Art historian Jordana Moore Saggese has said since, “this was not the starving artist the public was accustomed to seeing,” according to The Atlantic. Basquiat died of a drug overdose at the age of 27 in 1988, but since then, the prices of his work have steadily climbed upward, sometimes taking massive leaps. Everyone is still fascinated by the artist, though nobody can really say why.

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