Who Owns This $37 Million Basquiat Painting?

Why does this sold work still "belong" to the consignor?

Jean-Michel Basquiat, The Field Next to the Other Road (1981), acrylic, enamel spray paint, oilstick, metallic paint and ink on canvas.
Photo courtesy Christie’s.

With a bit of sleuthing that included searching property ownership filings, the Art Newspaper has turned up a curious situation in which a gargantuan Jean-Michel Basquiat painting consigned to Christie’s this past May—that sold at auction for just over $37 million—still appears to be owned by the consignor, art dealer Tony Shafrazi.

The 13-foot painting, titled The Field Next to the Other Road (1981), was included in Christie’s evening sale of postwar and contemporary art in New York on May 13 and was the sixth highest price of the blockbuster $658.5 million auction, and the second-highest price for a Basquiat at auction to date.

The successful buyer was not identified, but as artnet News’ Brian Boucher reported at the time, New York dealer Christophe van de Weghe was the reluctant underbidder, telling artnet News that he stopped bidding at $33 million.

As the Art Newspaper pointed out: “A Uniform Commercial Code-1 (UCC1) filing statement reveals that Shafrazi still owned the Basquiat painting two months after the auction.” The document, filed July 28, shows that “Christie’s loaned money to Shafrazi and his gallery, with the dealer using the painting as collateral.”

According to Christie’s catalogue entry, which can still be accessed online, it appears the house had arranged a third-party guarantee on the lot. Language appearing under the label “Special Notice” indicates:

“On occasion, Christie’s has a direct financial interest in lots consigned for sale, which may include guaranteeing a minimum price or making an advance to the consignor that is secured solely by consigned property. Christie’s may choose to assume this financial risk on its own or may contract with a third party for such third party to assume all or part of this financial risk. When a third party agrees to finance all or part of Christie’s interest in a lot, it takes on all or part of the risk of the lot not being sold, and will be remunerated in exchange for accepting this risk. The third party may also bid for the lot. Where it does so, and is the successful bidder, the remuneration may be netted against the final purchase price. If the lot is not sold, the third party may incur a loss. Christie’s guarantee of a minimum price for this lot has been fully financed through third parties.”

Did the outside backer acquire the work and then change his mind? Did the successful bidder fail to pay for the work? A Christie’s spokesperson confirmed to the Art Newspaper that the lot was sold, but was unable to provide details to artnet News by time of publication; artnet News also reached out to Shafrazi, but did not yet receive a response.

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