Basquiat became the most expensive American artist ever sold at auction, in large part because of the former owner of the UFC.
“Ladies and gentlemen, a masterpiece by Jean-Michel Basquiat,” the auctioneer said, pointing to a painting to his right.
An Untitled skull painting from Basquiat was being auctioned off with a starting price of $57 million dollars at Sotheby’s Postwar and Contemporary Evening Sale. Unknown yet to many, but the massive bidding war that emerges from this May 18 event would end up in the record books.
Bids came quickly at first, and once the price reached $68 million — past the $60 million guaranteed minimum — the auctioneer raised his gavel. “I’m going to sell. Fair warning now, last chance.”
“$69 million!” A new bidder from a few rows back entered the fray, to the collective gasp of everyone in attendance.
The next few rounds of bids came from just two people engaged in what would end up to be a historic bidding war for the painting. It was Yuki Terase against Nicholas Maclean, both on their phones, pushing the bids higher and higher for their respective clients.
“77 million dollars.”
“78 million dollars.”
The numbers crept up to 80, and eventually past the 90 million mark.
“At 98 million dollars,” the auctioneer said about Terase’s last bid. “The hammer is up, sir. I’m selling to this side of the room. It’s Yuki’s bidder. Fair warning.”
Shortly after, Maclean was seen, still on his headphones, shaking his head after the immensely high mark. The final gavel dropped, and the painting was sold, breaking records and sending shockwaves throughout the art world.
After fees, the overall purchase cost $110.5 million, making Basquiat’s Untitled 1982 painting the most expensive American artwork ever sold at auction.
Shortly after, it was revealed that Terase’s client was Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese billionaire who also purchased a Basquiat for $57.3 million last year — the artist’s previous high mark.
He took to social media shortly after this historic purchase.
I am happy to announce that I just won this masterpiece. When I first encountered this painting, I was struck with so much excitement and gratitude for my love of art. I want to share that experience with as many people as possible. バスキア落札しました。アートを好きになってよかった。このペインティングをはじめて見た時、心からそう思いました。みなさんにも見てもらえる機会を作れたらいいなと思っています。 #jeanmichelbasquiat #basquiat #バスキア #ありがとう @sothebys
As for the client of Maclean, multiple sources including the New York Times confirmed that it was Frank Fertitta III who was bidding against the Japanese tycoon. The former owner of the UFC eventually folded to the Asian collector, but he helped push the number to unforeseen heights.
While not known to many Mixed Martial Arts fans, the former UFC owners in Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta both have pretty extensive art collections.
When UFC president Dana White chose to display art pieces such as a dollar bill-wrapped AK-47 that contained actual drugs in his workspace, Lorenzo instead had pieces from Basquiat and Andy Warhol hanging from his former Zuffa office.
The Fertitta brothers also exhibited parts of their private collection in the past, boasting works such as Basquiat’s “Warrior” and Warhol’s “$” among many others.
Frank looked to add this record breaking Basquiat to his collection, but thanks to the 14th wealthiest person in Japan, it wasn’t meant to be.
“We almost had it!” Maclean told artnews.com about Fertitta’s bidding war. “But at some point, you’ve got to stop.”
In 2016, the Fertittas sold the UFC for $4 billion.