Billionaire money manager Steven A. Cohen is selling a prized painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat at Christie’s in May, according to people familiar with the matter.
Titled “La Hara,” the 1981 work depicts a white police officer. It’s expected to be among the top lots of Christie’s postwar and contemporary art auction in New York on May 17. Painted on a wood panel, the piece is estimated at $22 million to $28 million, Christie’s said.
The upcoming round of semiannual auctions in New York next month will be a key test of the art market after a contraction in 2016. Global auction sales declined 26 percent to $22.1 billion last year, according to a recent report by UBS Group AG and Art Basel. But the market seems to be improving: In March, Sotheby’s and Christie’s saw their London auctions of Impressionist, modern, postwar and contemporary art bounce back from last year’s doldrums.
“It’s one of the few works of white men by Basquiat,” said Alex Rotter, Christie’s chairman of postwar and contemporary art in the Americas. “It also has a political aspect.”
Rotter declined to comment on the identity of the Basquiat seller. Cohen’s spokesman Jonathan Gasthalter also declined to comment.
The 6-foot-tall piece shows a white skeletal figure in a peaked cap against a red background. It’s marked multiple times with the words “LA HARA,” which Christie’s described as a play on both the Puerto Rican term “jara,” slang for police, and the surname “O’Hara” that was considered common in New York law enforcement during the 1940s and 1950s.
The auction house has guaranteed the seller an undisclosed minimum price regardless of the outcome. The work fetched $341,000 in 1989 at Sotheby’s, according to Artnet, and later sold privately to Cohen.
Basquiat turned 21 the year he painted “La Hara,” a crucial time when he transitioned from street artist to art-world sensation. That year, he began working in the basement of Annina Nosei’s SoHo gallery.
Cohen, 60, whose net worth is estimated at $12.1 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, paid $141.3 million for a sculpture of a pointing man by Alberto Giacometti in May 2015. Six months later, he sold his “Mao” portrait by Andy Warhol for $47.5 million at Sotheby’s and his yolk-colored egg-shaped canvas by Lucio Fontana for $29.2 million at Christie’s.
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