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

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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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Australians Vote to Name New Sydney Harbor Boat 'Ferry McFerryface'
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NSW Transport

Proving that some jokes never die (or at least take a little longer to reach the Land Down Under), Sydney has a new ferry named Ferry McFerryface, according to BBC News.

For the uninitiated, the name Ferry McFerryface pays homage to an English practical joke from 2016. It all started when the UK's Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) made global headlines after launching an online poll to name a nearly $300 million polar research ship. Leading the vote by a significant margin was the moniker “Boaty McBoatface.”

For a short period, it seemed as though jokesters would pull off their naming coup. But once the competition reached its end, government officials ultimately decided to override the poll. They named the research ship RSS Sir David Attenborough instead, although they did agree to give the name Boaty McBoatface to one of its submarines.

Sydney recently held a similar competition to name a fleet of six new harbor ferries, and the results were announced in mid-November. Locals submitted more than 15,000 names, and winning submissions included the names of esteemed Australian doctors, prominent Aboriginal Australians, and—yes—Ferry McFerryface, according to the Associated Press. Boaty McBoatface also came out on top, but it was struck down.

“Given ‘Boaty’ was already taken by another vessel, we’ve gone with the next most popular name nominated by Sydneysiders,” said Andrew Constance, the New South Wales minister for transport and infrastructure, in a statement. “Ferry McFerryface will be the harbor’s newest icon and I hope it brings a smile to the faces of visitors and locals alike.”

[h/t BBC News]

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How One New York Town Is Preparing for the Next Hurricane Sandy
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Darren McCollester, Stringer, Getty Images

This past Sunday marked five years since Hurricane Sandy made landfall over the northeastern U.S. While the towns hit hardest by the storm are using the time as an opportunity to reflect on the lives, homes, and landscapes that were destroyed, they’re also continuing to prepare for the next mega-storm that will reach their shores. One beach town in Staten Island, New York is investing in a strategy that’s especially innovative: As Mother Jones reports, the surge barrier that’s being erected off the shores of Tottenville will repurpose nature to provide protection from natural disasters.

The government-funded project, called Living Breakwaters, is the brainchild of MacArthur Genius and landscape architect Kate Orff. Rather than building a conventional seawall, Orff and her firm envision a “living piece of infrastructure” containing an oyster reef that will continue to grow and respond to its environment even after construction ends. During a harsh storm, the breakwater would absorb the impact of dangerous waves barreling toward shore. It also has the potential to preserve the environment in the long term by decreasing erosion and wave activity.

Because Living Breakwaters is designed to act as part of its environment, it offers a few benefits in addition to flood protection. The creatures that make their homes on the reef will eventually purify the waters around them and make the shores of Tottenville cleaner and healthier. The reef will also be more discreet and pleasing to look at than a harsh concrete wall, meaning Tottenville residents can enjoy their clear ocean views without having to sacrifice safety.

The project is still in its preliminary stages, with construction scheduled to start in 2019 and wrap up in 2021. Rather than relying entirely on an experimental method, the community is integrating the breakwaters into a larger flood protection plan. Some tools, like wave-blocking sand dunes, will also take advantage of the area’s natural resources.

[h/t Mother Jones]

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