Jean-Michel Basquiat, “Untitled” (1982) (© 2017 The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat / ADAGP, Paris / ARS)

A vibrant painting of a skull by Jean-Michel Basquiat broke auction records last night when it sold at the whopping price of $110.5 million at Sotheby’s New York. “Untitled,” painted in 1982, now represents the auction world’s most expensive work by an American artist as well as its most expensive artwork created post 1980.

The large canvas, measuring about six by six feet, entered the hands of Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, who proudly revealed himself as the winning bidder by posting multiple images of himself posing with his treasure on Twitter and on Instagram. The founder of Japan’s largest online fashion mall, Zozotown, he had placed his bids anonymously, through the phone.

“I am happy to announce that I just won this masterpiece,” Maezawa wrote on Instagram. “When I first encountered this painting, I was struck with so much excitement and gratitude for my love of art. I want to share that experience with as many people as possible.”

A blend of acrylic, spray paint, and oil stick, the skull painting last appeared on the market almost exactly 13 years ago, when it sold for $19,000 to collectors Jerry and Emily Spiegel. Yesterday’s opening bid was set at $57 million, an amount that climbed over the course of a tense, 10-minute bidding battle that drew many gasps from the crowd. According to the New York Times, only 10 other works have been priced at over $100 million, including paintings by Francis Bacon and Pablo Picasso.

This isn’t the first Basquiat to enter the collection of Maezawa, who also founded the Tokyo-based Contemporary Art Foundation. The 41-year-old entrepreneur actually set a previous auction high for Basquiat, paying $57.3 million for a 1982 painting at a Christie’s sale last year. At the time, he issued a statement nothing that “Generationally, I relate to Basquiat’s culture and the essence of his life story.”

Maezawa reiterated the personal connection he feels to the late Brooklyn artist after this recent purchase, telling Sotheby’s that he intends “to loan this piece — which has been unseen by the public for more than 30 years — to institutions and exhibitions around the world.” Eventually, though, it will stand as the centerpiece of a contemporary art museum he is planning to open in his hometown of Chiba.

“I hope it brings as much joy to others as it does to me, and that this masterpiece by the 21-year-old Basquiat inspires our future generations,” Maezawa said in a statement.

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Claire Voon is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Singapore, she grew up near Washington, D.C. and is now based in Chicago. Her work has also appeared in New York Magazine, VICE,...

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