Oops! Bill Acquavella Just Blew the Lid on a Multi-Million Basquiat Slated for Christie’s Auction in November

You never know where you will find auction intel.

Bill Acquavella attends Art Basel Miami Beach December 6, 2017. (Photo by Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

Auction houses love to control the narratives when it comes to announcing their significant consignments for upcoming sales.

But sometimes there’s a slip-up.

This season, Christie’s lost several key collections to rival Sotheby’s, including the biggest prize of them all, the Emily Fisher Landau estate. Now, it faces the challenge of assembling its major sales piecemeal. Though as yet unannounced, details about which exact individual lots Christie’s has managed to wrangle are starting to leak out.

In particular, dealers have been speculating about a mystery painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat for a couple of weeks. An image of that painting appeared on Christie’s websites as a placeholder for the auction it will be offered at, the “21st Century Evening” sale on November 7. 

Screenshot of the unnamed work in Christie's Upcoming sales calendar.

Screenshot of the unnamed work in Christie’s Upcoming sales calendar.

No details were provided, and the image couldn’t be clicked on to see the whole thing. And so the facts about the work remained, for some time, a mystery.

Today, however, an image of the whole painting leaked in an unexpected place: an Instagram story of Bill Acquavella, the patriarch of one of the top art-dealing dynasties in the world and the head of Acquavella Galleries on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

Acquavella’s story showed the same work in a posh room, surrounded by plush red chairs.

Screenshot of an Instagram story from Bill Acquavella.

Screenshot of an Instagram story from Bill Acquavella.

The untitled 1981 work depicts a hodgepodge of numbers and scribbles, surrounding a large head. The Instagram image makes clear that it is quite large.

In fact, it measures 4 feet high and 10 feet wide, and is listed among the earliest paintings in Basquiat’s catalogue raisonné compiled by the late dealer Enrico Navara. The painting had been shown during the artist’s brief life, in 1986, at the Kestner-Gesellschaft art center in Hanover, Germany, and by Galerie Bruno Bischofberger a decade later.

It last came up for auction in 2007, fetching $5.7 million with fees (against the presale estimate of $5 million to $7 million) at Sotheby’s in London, according to the Artnet Price Database. It also turns out that Christie’s has offered the work to clients for sale privately, according to a person familiar with the matter. 

Now it appears the painting is slated for sale on November 7, according to Christie’s calendar. The estimate is $10 million to $15 million, according to a person briefed on the matter. The auction house did not immediately respond to comment.

Why did Acquavella post the work on his Instagram? An obvious guess is that he is a third-party guarantor and uses social media to promote it.

But that’s not the case, the dealer said. 

“I have nothing to do with it,” Acquavella said of the painting when reached by phone in Rome on Wednesday. “Someone showed it to me a month or so ago. I had the photograph. I must have just pressed something.”

More Trending Stories:  

Pace Tapped Painter Pam Evelyn as Its Youngest Talent. She Tells Us What’s Behind Her New Show of Tumultuously Beautiful Abstractions 

The U.K.’s Royal Collection Has Discovered a Long-Lost Artemisa Gentileschi Painting That Was Left to Collect Dust in Storage for a Century 

A Set of Rare Daguerrotypes Linked to a Notorious British Naval Episode Raked in More Than $500,000 at Sotheby’s 

What I’m Looking at: Michael Rakowitz Makes a Meta-Monument, the Debate Over ‘Art Without Men,’ and Other Things at the Edge of Art 

John Baldessari’s Heirs Are Caught Up in a Tangle of Litigation Over the Care and Ownership of the Late Conceptual Artist’s Works 

Marine Scientists Are Baffled By a Mysterious Golden Orb Found in the Unexplored Depths of the Gulf of Alaska 

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.
  • Access the data behind the headlines with the artnet Price Database.