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Basquiat 'masterpiece' breaks auction record

A Japanese billionaire bought a Basquiat masterpiece for $ 110.5m (£85.1m), setting a new auction record for the painter.

The 1982 Untitled painting shows a skull-like head in oil-stick, acrylic and spray paint on a giant canvas.

Virtually unknown before, it was first unveiled at Sotheby’s in New York just weeks ago and wrapped up Friday’s auction, which scored over $ 1bn in sales.

The $ 110.5m price tag was a record for any US artist at auction and the highest price at auction for an artwork created after 1980.

It is also the highest anyone has ever paid for a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat.

“Breaking $ 100 million for a work which is that recent is definitely extraordinary. I think it just speaks about the talent of this guy,” said Gregoire Billault, Sotheby’s head of contemporary art.

“I’ve never seen so much emotions in such a painting,” he said. “It’s just pure emotion. He’s bringing something never seen before.”

Untitled was bought by 41-year-old Yusaku Maezawa, the Japanese entrepreneur who set the previous Basquiat record last year, paying $ 57.3m for a self-portrait of the American painter.

“I am happy to announce that I just won this masterpiece,” Maezawa wrote on Instagram alongside a picture of himself with the picture.

“When I first encountered this painting, I was struck with so much excitement and gratitude for my love of art. I want to share that experience with as many people as possible.”

Maezawa, who was bidding via telephone, had to compete with other buyers at the auction in a tense 10-minute long bidding war.

“It’s a great masterpiece at $ 98m dollars,” the auctioneer said at one point, provoking to laughter in the room.

Basquiat, born in Brooklyn to Haitian and Puerto Rican parents, died in 1988 of an overdose aged just 27.

His eight-year-long career made him one of the shortest-lived, most successful artists of the 20th century.

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