Valentino’s Basquiat Painting Heads For Auction
The piece, El Gran Espectaculo (The Nile), will land on the Christie’s auction block next month.
A 3.6 metre wide canvas by Jean-Michel Basquiat from 1983 that comes from the collection of the Italian fashion designer Valentino Garavani is estimated to bring in more than $67 million during a Christie’s auction this May. The sale figure could potentially put the work among the most expensive pieces by the artist ever sold publicly.
The painting, titled El Gran Espectaculo (The Nile), depicts floating skulls and figures set against a background riddled with scrawled phrases alluding to pharaohs and ancient Egyptian sites. At the centre of this painting, which is composed of three conjoined parts, a yellow boat is led down the Nile River by the god Osiris.
It has resided in Garavani’s personal collection for 18 years, appearing in a 2010 issue of Vanity Fairin which the Italian fashion mogul was photographed seated in front of the painting. Four years earlier, Garavani paid tribute to the artist with a collection of graffiti print dresses using imagery licensed from the Basquiat estate archive. (In May 2021, Valentino cofounder Giancarlo Giammetti sold a 1983 painting by Basquiat for $138 million.)
The Nile was showcased in a 2005 travelling Basquiat show around that originated at the Brooklyn Museum in New York. It was presumably put on loan in the exhibition by Garavani after acquiring it that same year at Sotheby’s New York auction, where it sold for $7.7 million.
Backed with a third-party guarantee, the work will be offered for sale during Christie’s 21st century art evening sale at the house’s Rockefeller Center location on May 15. It is being sold “from a distinguished collection” according to the house’s catalogue entry. The painting’s current estimated price is more than eight times the figure it achieved in 2005.
In a statement, Christie’s chairman Alex Rotter said that when the artist completed the work at the age of 22, “unpacking historical constructs of race” was at the forefront of these early years in his practice. The Spanish title of the work, which translates to “The Great Show,” has also been referred to as “The Nile,” a phrase written on the back of the canvas.
In some corners, Basquiat’s paintings have been considered financial trophies. Although the artist never lacked a market following, his works have in recent years commanded some of the largest sums at auction, with his name becoming a brand in the market sphere. The forthcoming sale is yet another sign that, 35 years after his death in 1988, Basquiat has become synonymous with luxury.
The Nile has also made its way into the pop-cultural mainstream consciousness. It appeared as a reproduction in the 2016 Showtime TV series Billions, the guiding plotline of which was based on a high-profile rift between hedge-funder and collector Steve Cohen and a prominent US attorney. In interviews, the show’s organisers said that the staging for the series imagined Basquiat as a luxury symbol for the financial sector’s top echelons.
A portion of the proceeds from its sale in May will go to the Accademia Valentino in Rome, an institution that’s run separately from the fashion label’s umbrella, but shares it’s founders. A spokesperson described the academy’s mission as “dedicated to art, fashion, and education.” Some of the sale’s proceeds will support a project to build new spaces at its headquarters.
“The worlds of fine art and luxury are historically linked,” Christie’s contemporary art specialist Isabella Lauria told ARTnews. Across audiences, Lauria described Basquiat’s references “from art history to street art” as having becoming “engrained in shared cultural consciousness.”
Lauria added, “In a way, Basquiat saw the future, and his references have continued to become that much more salient.”
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