Basquiat's skull painting sells for record breaking US$160.5 million at auction

A section of Basquiat's untitled painting of a skull, which sold at auction for $160m.

A section of Basquiat's untitled painting of a skull, which sold at auction for $160m.

A large-abstract painting of a skull has become the world's most expensive piece of art sold at auction. 

According to the New York Times, Jean-Michel Basquiat's "powerful"  untitled skull painting, created in 1982, has joined the US$100million-plus club, previously dominated by better known names such as Picasso, by selling for US$110.5million (NZ$160.5m). 

The auction, held at Sotheby's in New York on Wednesday, drew gasps from the crowd as the price "sailed past" the expected $60million mark. 

Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat painting in 1983 in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
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Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat painting in 1983 in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

The buyer is Japanese billionaire and Basquiat fan Yusaku Maezawa, who purchased another of the artist's eclectic works in 2016 - a steal at just US$57.3m.

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The skull painting has been unseen in public since it was bought at auction by a private buyer in 1984, when Basquiat was still relatively unknown. That time the buyer paid just US$19,000.

Previous record holder,  Picasso's Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, which sold at Christies in 2010 for US$106.5m.

Previous record holder, Picasso's Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, which sold at Christies in 2010 for US$106.5m.

Outside his art, Basquiat is most famous for starting out as homeless graffiti artist. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, Basquiat died at just 27 of a heroin overdose, leaving a large body of work in his trade mark frenetic, expressive style. 

Prior to this sale, Time Magazine says the most expensive painting bought at auction was Picasso's Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, which sold at Christies in 2010 for US$106.5m. 

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