Contemporary collectors are also attracted to the rarity of Basquiat’s major canvases from 1982, of which there are 200 in total, according to the third edition of the artist’s catalogue raisonné published in 2000. “There are really only a small group of pictures from ’82 that are in that top category,” said Baptist. They’re also not released into the market very often—collectors have been known to hang onto them for decades. “A lot of these pictures resided in collections for 10 to 20 years, coming out of purchases in the late ’80s and ’90s,” he continued.
Take the the astronomical price achieved by Untitled in 2017. It was spurred, in part, by “the story behind the work, and its provenance,” Galperin noted. Since its original sale in 1982 through Nosei, the painting had only changed hands three times—and all between 1982 and 1984. From 1984 until 2017, it was not only kept off the market, but also never exhibited or seen in public.
“It was a mythical picture for all of us Basquiat fanatics and experts, because we knew it only by this small thumbnail reproduction in the artist’s catalogue raisonné,” Galperin said.
Indeed, Basquiat’s canvases from 1982 have achieved something of a mythological status, with meteoric prices to match. But the reasons behind their rise can be pinpointed to concrete milestones in Basquiat’s life, and the stylistic choices he made in response to them. His paintings from this momentous year are, as Galperin said, “demonstrative of an artist who’s really at the height of their powers, who’s being seen for the first time, and who’s taking all of that instinctive energy and language and power and putting it onto canvas.”