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Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Skull Painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat Sells for Nearly $111 Million

Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Jean-Michel Basquiat began his career as a humble New York street artist in the late 1970s—but a recent record-breaking sale at Sotheby’s auction house ensured that the painter’s name will be mentioned in the same breath as Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol, and other modernist greats.

As The New York Times reports, a 1982 work by Basquiat—a scrawling, large-scale painting of a skull—fetched nearly $111 million at a contemporary art auction last night, cementing its creator as one of America’s highest-grossing artists. The untitled painting’s new owner is Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese e-commerce billionaire who collects art.

As CNN reports, Maezawa is constructing an art museum in the city of Chiba, near Tokyo. In the past year, he’s shelled out $230 million for works of contemporary art to place on display. One of them was another untitled Basquiat painting, which the entrepreneur purchased from Christie’s in May 2016 for more than $57 million. (That deal marked a previous auction high for Basquiat, which Maezawa has now broken on his own.)

Both Basquiat works will go in Maezawa’s new museum—but before placing his newest purchase in its permanent home, he plans to loan it to institutions and exhibitions around the world. "I hope it brings as much joy to others as it does to me, and that this masterpiece by the 21-year-old Basquiat inspires our future generations,” the collector said in a statement [PDF].

That said, the skull painting’s price—not its new owner—is what’s making headlines. The work was last sold in May 1984 for $19,000, and has been “virtually unseen” since then, according to Sotheby’s. But on May 18, the painting became the most expensive work produced by any American artist, and the sixth most expensive work ever sold at auction. It set other records, too, including highest price fetched for any artwork by an African-American artist.

Basquiat—who died from a drug overdose when he was 27 years old—achieved fame during his short lifetime. But several decades after his death, his vision is more poignant than ever: In 2016, the artist became the highest-grossing American artist at auction, after 80 of his works sold for nearly $172 million. And now, he’s entered a new league of fame.

“Here he is, blazing a trail not only in terms of the market but also in terms of how his work is perceived more widely,” African-American artist Adam Pendleton told The New York Times. “It speaks to the broader elements of American culture. And what a powerful moment to have that happen.”

[h/t The New York Times]

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VINCENZO PINTO, AFP, Getty Images
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This Just In
The Pope Just Officiated an Impromptu Inflight Wedding
VINCENZO PINTO, AFP, Getty Images
VINCENZO PINTO, AFP, Getty Images

Though he might be more famous for his tricked-out Popemobiles, when Pope Francis needs to get somewhere in a hurry, there’s always a papal plane. On Thursday, he made that Airbus 321 a vessel that one lucky couple will never forget when he officiated an impromptu marriage between Paula Podest and Carlos Ciuffardi, who have been together for more than 10 years and are both flight attendants for Chile's LATAM Airlines.

It started out innocently enough: on a flight from Santiago to Iquique, Chile, Crux reports, the flight crew was posing with the Pope for a group photo. When Papa Pancho asked the couple if they had had a church wedding, they explained that though they have been civilly married since 2010, the church that they were supposed to get married at was destroyed in an earthquake just a few days before their big day. Not one to let a little thing like being 35,000 feet in the air get in the way, Pope Francis suggested that he make up for their original plans and marry them right then and there.

“He held our hands, blessed the rings, and he married us in the name of God,” Ciuffardi told Crux.

His Holiness also made sure the happy couple knew how historic their nuptials would be. “Never has a pope married a couple on a plane,” he said.

Crew members Paula Podest (L) and Carlos Ciuffardi smile after being married by Pope Francis during the flight between Santiago and the northern city of Iquique on January 18, 2018
VINCENZO PINTO, AFP, Getty Images
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Courtesy of Gem Diamonds Ltd.
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This Just In
Fifth Largest Diamond in The World Discovered in Southern Africa
Courtesy of Gem Diamonds Ltd.
Courtesy of Gem Diamonds Ltd.

The Letšeng diamond mine in the southern African nation of Lesotho is known for producing large, high-quality gems. As Bloomberg reports, a massive diamond uncovered there recently is the mine's most impressive yet. The 910-carat stone is roughly the size of two golf balls and weighs more than a billiard ball.

The diamond is thought to be the fifth largest ever discovered on Earth. Gem Diamonds Ltd., the company behind the discovery, said in a statement [PDF] that the "exceptional top quality diamond is the largest to be mined to date and highlights the unsurpassed quality of the Letšeng mine."

Beyond its size, the diamond is also remarkable for its purity. The D color Type IIa status means there are little to no nitrogen atoms muddying its color. Though Gem Diamonds hasn't revealed their price, the diamond is likely worth a huge amount: up to $40 million, analyst Ben Davis tells Bloomberg.

That's a steep price, but it's nowhere near the highest ever paid for a diamond at auction. Rare colored diamonds tend to fetch the highest bids: In 2015, the Blue Moon diamond sold for $48.5 million, and in 2017 the Pink Star was auctioned off for $71.2 million, making it the most expensive diamond of all time.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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