Describing an iconic 1985 photograph taken at in-crowd eatery Mr. Chow, Gorvy explained how Basquiat—pictured among a veritable Who’s Who of the 1980s art world, including
—navigated an industry that was overwhelmingly white. In the photograph, Basquiat holds out his dinner plate, posing as a server—a disarmingly salient comment on racial stereotypes and perceptions.
“You realize that he was completely aware of how he was the only Black man in this whole art world and how there were no Black people in art history,” said Gorvy. “Basquiat was already completely involved in that thought process before anyone else. He was highly aware of his race, which is hugely important to the iconography of his work.”
These heads offer an interior expression and window into all the tensions and psychic friction Basquiat endured. Despite being so connected to his experiences as a Black artist in America, in the last decade, they’ve found intense global resonance. Collectors in Asia in particular have been crucial in pushing the market for Basquiat’s work to new heights; both last week’s record-breaking work on paper and the blockbuster canvas that went for $110.4 million in 2017 were sold to Asian collectors. “That price just solidified the market for this imagery; the skull being at the very top of the market for Basquiat,” said Galperin, of Sotheby’s.