“Warrior”, a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat from 1982, which is supposed to symbolize the struggles of black men in a world dominated by white, was sold on Tuesday at Christie’s auction house in Hong Kong for $ 41.9 million sold.

Although Christie’s said it was the highest price paid in an auction for a Western artwork in Asia, it could be a technical matter: on a 2017 sale by Sotheby’s in New York, Japanese billionaire collector Yusaku Maezawa paid US $ 110 million -Dollars for Basquiat’s “Untitled”. It remains the artist’s auction record.

“Warrior” was valued at $ 31 million to $ 41 million and was sold as an unusual single lot. It runs a week of livestream auctions of the 20th and 21st centuries at Christie’s and Sotheby’s in London and Paris, including an old master and a rediscovered van Gogh. Christie’s backed Basquiat’s global appeal to bolster the art market as he tried to get out of the onset of the pandemic year.

Annual art sales in 2020 were down 22 percent from 2019 to $ 50 billion, with revenue from public auctions falling 30 percent to $ 17.6 billion, according to a recent report by UBS and Art Basel. The supply of top works of art remains scarce, and in the short term only a few distress sales or large properties are on the horizon. Asking prices are astronomical, which makes it difficult to close deals, traders and auction managers said.

The “Warrior” result, with three bidders vying for the work, shows why the artist is a key figure on the blue-chip art market alongside Picasso and Warhol. It also shows why those stalwarts are unlikely to be easily dethroned by the headline-grabbing NFT invasion led by digital artist Beeple’s sale of a $ 69.3 million work at Christie’s earlier this month.

Recognition…Jean-Michel Basquiat’s estate from Sotheby’s

Both Beeple and Basquiat “have a place,” said Alberto Mugrabi, the collector and dealer whose father paid $ 250,000 for “Warrior” in the mid-1990s. “You both belong to a category of very few artists. Beeple is going to bring a new audience to the art world and it’s an encouraging thing to see. “

While the outcome was unpredictable for Beeple’s work – the bid started at $ 100 – the Basquiat was a relatively safe bet for Christie’s hoping to bring in new folks from Asia. (The winning bid came from Christie’s Hong Kong agent.) The company guaranteed the seller an undisclosed reserve price and received an irrevocable offer from a third party to ensure the work would sell.

“Basquiat is one of the strongest markets to emerge from the pandemic,” said Christophe van de Weghe, a retailer specializing in Basquiat. “It’s worldwide. You can sell Basquiat like Picasso to someone in India, Kazakhstan, or Mexico. You can have a 28 year old who spends millions on Basquiat and you can have a man who is 85 years old. He speaks to all types of people from rappers to hedge fund folks. ”

Basquiat was born in Brooklyn and is of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent. Exploring issues of race and inequality using a graffiti-inspired style, he rose from humble beginnings in street art to the pinnacle of the contemporary art world. He dated Madonna, worked with Warhol, and became a legend after he died in 1988 at the age of 27.

“Warrior” shows a figure with fiery eyes and a raised sword against blue and yellow spots. It was painted on a wooden panel six feet high in 1982 using oil pencil, acrylic, and spray paint. It was auctioned four times, including the Tuesday sale. It was last published by Sotheby’s in 2012 and grossed $ 8.7 million. At the time, it was bought by real estate mogul Aby Rosen.

Christie’s declined to confirm that Rosen was the seller of Warrior, but its provenance indicates that the current owner bought the work in 2012. Rosen put the work up for sale privately last year, according to a dealer who knew the sale firsthand. Rosen did not return any emails looking for a comment.

Basquiat’s 1982 painting Boy and Dog in a Johnny Pump was one of the best-known deals of 2020. It was bought by billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin for more than $ 100 million and hung at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Although Basquiat was very productive, the range of works available is limited: around 900 paintings and 3,400 works on paper. In contrast, Beeple’s record “Everydays – the First 5000 Days” comprised the 5,000 works the artist had created in 13.5 years.

Alex Rotter, Christie’s 20th and 21st Century Arts Chairman, recently had the chance to see the extent of Basquiat’s appeal when he played the Brooklyn Nets’ victorious game at the team’s arena on February 25th. Basquiat’s signature crown was on the floor of the square.

“I thought, ‘Wow! How cool is that! “Said Rotter this week, remembering the game when the Nets beat the Orlando Magic. “Basquiat is everywhere.”