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A Sotheby’s official speaks about ‘Untitled,’ a 1982 painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat during a media preview at Sotheby’s in New York May 5, 2017. — AFP picA Sotheby’s official speaks about ‘Untitled,’ a 1982 painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat during a media preview at Sotheby’s in New York May 5, 2017. — AFP picNEW YORK, May 19 — A 1982 untitled Basquiat sold for US$110.5 million (RM478.8 million) in New York yesterday, setting a new auction record for the US artist in Sotheby’s flagship post-war and contemporary art sale, the auction house said.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, the US wonderkid of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent, who died in 1988 of an overdose at the age of 27, has been catapulted into the rostrum of 20th century greats by the rising value of his work.

A tense bidding war lasted for around 10 minutes between a client in Sotheby’s New York showroom and another on the telephone, with the telephone buyer ultimately clinching the top bid.

The skull-like head on a giant canvas in oil-stick, acrylic and spray paint called Untitled was the star lot of the May auction season in New York and had been valued pre-sale in excess of US$60 million.

Loud cheers and applause greeted the conclusion of the sale, which almost doubled the previous Basquiat record of US$57 million, set for a self-portrait snapped up by a Japanese billionaire at Sotheby’s last year.

The canvas was last bought in 1984 at Christie’s for US$19,000.

Sotheby’s auctioneer opened bids yesterday at US$57 million and offered occasional moments of levity and encouragement to the bidders.

“It’s a great masterpiece at US$98 million dollars,” he said to laughter in the room shortly before the bidding war concluded. The US$110.5 million price tag includes the buyer’s premium.

At least 14 works from the Brooklyn-born artist were on sale at Christie’s and Sotheby’s this week.

The subject of much of his work — ordeals endured by blacks in the US — is finding renewed resonance in the wake of nationwide US protests since 2014 about the shootings of unarmed black men by police.

Rival auction house Christie’s sold Basquiat’s La Hara — a 1981 acrylic and oil-stick of an angry-looking New York police officer — for US$35 million on Wednesday, eclipsing its US$22-28 million estimate.

Pablo Picasso holds the world record for the most expensive piece of art ever sold at auction. His The Women of Algiers (Version 0) fetched US$179.4 million at Christie’s in New York in 2015. — AFP

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