The Market for Jean-Michel Basquiat: how one artist’s prices have continued to defy the odds

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960 – 1988) has proven to be one of the greatest forces in the art market over the last three decades. In his lifetime, Basquiat was one of the most sought-after artists in the world, and even prior to his tragic death at the age of 27, his prices had skyrocketed. Below we take a specific series by the artist, comprised of larger paintings on a signature tied stretcher bar frame, to track how Basquiat’s market has performed since 1986, noting recessions or downturns in the broader economy. 

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We can use the series to make some observations about the Basquiat market:

  1. Prices for Basquiat’s work have declined only once, in the early 90s, when the rest of the art market was in a slump
  2. Basquiat’s prices are uncorrelated with the equities markets, including recessionary periods: 1987-1988, 2001- 2002, 2007 – 2009
  3. In times of expansion, growth in prices has outpaced the stock market: when the S&P doubled from 1993/94 to 1997/98, the average price for a Basquiat went up more than 3.5x (!), from around $75k to $343k for a work in this series

The risk-adjusted returns for paintings by Basquiat have continued to exceed those of any artist in the Blue Chip category, and prices have grown exponentially since 1986. In times of uncertainty, investors often turn to hard assets, because they tend to retain their value, and paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat are no exception.

 

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The Mosque, 1982.

NOTES AND METHODOLOGY

Tracking prices for art is trickier than for many assets. One of the more interesting and relevant ways to analyze the market for a particular artist is to chart how a series of similar works performs over time at public auction. Though Basquiat did not work in series, per se, we can loosely consider the paintings created between 1982 and 1983, in the 60 x 60 in. to 72 x 72 in format, stretched on cross bars, as a comparable series for the purposes of this analysis. Paintings which did not fit the above parameters or went unsold were excluded for our purposes.

 

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