‘What If Basquiat Had Gone to Space?’ Why a Billionaire Collector Is Hatching a Plan to Take Artists to the Moon on Elon Musk’s Rocket

Japanese collector Yusaku Maezawa is calling his pricy new art initiative "Dear Moon."

Yusaka Maezawa with his prized Basquiat, Untitled (1982). Image courtesy of @yusaku2020.
Collector Yusaku Maezawa with his record-setting purchase: Basquiat's Untitled (1982). Courtesy of @yusaku2020.

Yusaku Maezawa, the Japanese e-commerce billionaire who bought a record-breaking Basquiat painting for $110 million in 2017, is now pursuing an even more expensive prize: a trip to the moon. It’s looking like Maezawa will be the first lunar tourist, and the first commercial passenger to travel via one of Elon Musk’s SpaceX rockets.

“Finally, I can tell you that I choose to go the moon,” Maezawa told reporters at a press conference on Monday evening, as reported by the New York Times.

Musk had previously announced last year that a down payment had been made for two unnamed individuals to ride his Falcon Heavy rocket, which took its first and, so far, only flight a year later. We now know that the customer was Maezawa, who had planned to bring a guest along for the ride.

Musk, however, has decided not to redesign the Falcon Heavy to accommodate human passengers. Instead, Maezawa will have to wait for the completion of a new rocket, the B.F.R. The flight around the moon is expected to take place in 2023 and might cost Maezawa as much as $200 million dollars, though neither party has disclosed the price.

Maezawa says he conceives of the journey as a “revolutionary art project,” which he’s dubbed “Dear Moon.” He plans to invite six to eight artists to join him and the crew on the week-long voyage. “What if Basquiat had gone to space? What wonderful masterpiece would he have created?” Maezawa wondered. “What if Picasso had gone to the moon, or Andy Warhol, or Michael Jackson, or John Lennon, or Coco Chanel?”

Yusaku Maezawa's "Dear Moon" art project will bring artists to the moon aboard a SpaceX rocket. Image courtesy of Yusaku Maezawa.

Yusaku Maezawa’s “Dear Moon” art project will bring artists to the moon aboard a SpaceX rocket. Image courtesy of Yusaku Maezawa.

A video on the “Dear Moon” website suggests that he might take a film director, painter, dancer, novelist, musician, fashion designer, sculptor, photographer, and architect as possible passengers aboard the SpaceX capsule. He also plans to curate a “Dear Moon” exhibition to showcase the work created upon the group’s return to earth.

Musk expects to spend between $2 billion and $8 billion developing the B.F.R. (It has been referred to as the Big Falcon Rocket, but the “F” has also been rumored to stand for a more obscene word.) SpaceX is also teaming up with Boeing to begin flying NASA astronauts to the International Space Station next year for the first manned voyages launched from US soil since the Space Shuttle retired in 2011. Musk still needs to finish developing a SpaceX capsule that can carry human passengers.

Yusaku Maezawa's "Dear Moon" art project will bring artists to the moon aboard a SpaceX rocket. Image courtesy of Yusaku Maezawa.

Yusaku Maezawa’s “Dear Moon” art project will bring artists to the moon aboard a SpaceX rocket. Image courtesy of Yusaku Maezawa.

“We all have the ability to dream dreams that have never been dreamt, to sing songs that have never been sung, to paint that which has never been seen before,” wrote Maezawa on the “Dear Moon” website. “I hope that this project will inspire the dreamer within each of us.”

SpaceX’s announcement comes 50 years after the Apollo 8 voyage, NASA’s first manned trip to the moon. Space tourism has stalled in recent years, with the last private citizen entering orbit in 2009.

Yusaku Maezawa's "Dear Moon" art project will bring artists to the moon aboard a SpaceX rocket. Image courtesy of Yusaku Maezawa.

Yusaku Maezawa’s “Dear Moon” art project will bring artists to the moon aboard a SpaceX rocket. Image courtesy of Yusaku Maezawa.

Only seven people—one of whom made two trips—have ever paid for the privilege of journeying into space. It may soon become more common, however, as private space companies Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin have announced plans to offer short suborbital trips like the 1961 Mercury Freedom 7 flight that made Alan Shepard the first American in space.

Watch Maezawa’s video for “Dear Moon” below.


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