Is This the Most Expensive Work at Art Basel? One Dealer Has Brought a $40 Million Fresh-to-Market Painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat

Works by the late artist continue to dominate collectors' wish lists.

Jean-Michel Basquiat's Hardware Store (1983), on view at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. Photo: Jacques Demarthon/AFP via Getty Images.

A Jean-Michel Basquiat painting that is hitting the market for the first time is among the standouts at Art Basel, which opens today in the Swiss town on the Rhine River. Painted in 1983, Hardware Store is on offer by New York’s Van de Weghe gallery for $40 million, making it one of the priciest items at the fair.

The largest and most prestigious of Art Basel’s three fairs, this year’s event was again postponed from its usual June slot due to the pandemic, and jeopardized by Switzerland’s Covid-19 protocols. But in the eleventh hour, the country changed its policy to allow people who had received the AstraZeneca vaccine outside of the E.U. to obtain the country’s Covid certificate.

Hardware Store is one of the artist’s largest cross-bar diptychs, measuring approximately 7 feet tall and 11 feet wide. One canvas is yellow, the other blue, with heads and skulls floating amid scrawled words and phrases like “estimated value” and “eel.”

Basquiat, already a market star, has surged to the top of the charts this year, with sales generating $302.7 million in the first half of 2021, second to only Picasso. The late artist also swept the top five lots in the contemporary art category, which covers artists born between 1945 and 1974, according to the forthcoming Fall 2021 Artnet Intelligence Report. Leading the pack was In This Case (1983), which fetched $93.1 million at Christie’s in May.

Hardware Store has been in the same private collection since the year it was painted, according to art dealer Christophe Van de Weghe. It has been featured in major Basquiat exhibitions, including in New York, at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1992–93, and in Paris, at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in 2018–19.

The work is published in the three-volume Basquiat monograph issued in 2010 by Galerie Enrico Navarra, listed as held by an unspecified private collection, courtesy of Galerie Bruno Bischofberger. In the catalogue for its exhibition, the Fondation Louis Vuitton cited the lender as the Bischofberger Collection of Männedorf-Zurich. Bruno Bischofberger began working with Basquiat after he left Annina Nosei Gallery in 1982 and remained his primary dealer worldwide until the artist’s death in 1988.

Declining to comment on the seller’s identity, Van de Weghe said only that the painting has never been on the market. In 1983, it was included in Basquiat’s second solo show at Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, but it wasn’t for sale at the time, Van de Weghe said.

“This painting has amazing visual power,” Van de Weghe said. “I convinced the owner, who is a good friend, that now is the time to sell.”

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