Jean-Michel Basquiat, the US wonderkid of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent, who died in 1988 of an overdose at the age of 27, has been catapulted into the rostrum of 20th century greats by the rising value of his work.
A tense bidding war lasted for around 10 minutes yesterday between a client in Sotheby's New York showroom and another on the telephone, with the telephone buyer ultimately clinching the top bid.
The skull-like head on a giant canvas in oil-stick, acrylic and spray paint called "Untitled" was the star lot of the May auction season in New York and had been valued pre- sale in excess of $60 million.
Loud cheers and applause greeted the conclusion of the sale, which almost doubled the previous Basquiat record of $57 million, set for a self-portrait snapped up by a Japanese billionaire at Sotheby's last year.
The canvas was last bought in 1984 at Christie's for $19,000.
Sotheby's auctioneer opened bids Thursday at $57 million and offered occasional moments of levity and encouragement to the bidders.
"It's a great masterpiece at $98 million dollars," he said to laughter in the room shortly before the bidding war concluded. The USD 110.5 million price tag includes the buyer's premium.
At least 14 works from the Brooklyn-born artist were on sale at Christie's and Sotheby's this week.
The subject of much of his work — ordeals endured by blacks in America — is finding renewed resonance in the wake of nationwide US protests since 2014 about the shootings of unarmed black men by police.
Rival auction house Christie's sold Basquiat's "La Hara" — a 1981 acrylic and oil-stick of an angry-looking New York police officer — for $35 million on Wednesday, eclipsing its $22 to $28 million estimate.
Pablo Picasso holds the world record for the most expensive piece of art ever sold at auction. His "The Women of Algiers (Version 0)" fetched $179.4 million at Christie's in New York in 2015.