A masterpiece by the legendary artist Jean-Michel Basquiat is set to go under the hammer at Christie’s auction house this May. Titled “El Gran Espectaculo (The Nile)”, the painting is a 12-foot-wide canvas that features floating skulls, figures, and phrases that allude to pharaohs and ancient Egyptian sites. The work, which was created in 1983, comes from the personal collection of Italian fashion designer Valentino Garavani and is estimated to fetch over $45 million, potentially placing it among the most expensive pieces ever sold publicly by Basquiat.
Garavani, who has owned the painting for 18 years, is well-known for his admiration of the artist. In 2010, he was photographed seated in front of the painting for a feature in Vanity Fair, and four years earlier, he released a collection of graffiti print dresses using imagery licensed from the Basquiat estate archive. Interestingly, Garavani’s co-founder, Giancarlo Giammetti, sold a Basquiat painting for a whopping $93.1 million in 2021.
The Nile has been showcased in numerous exhibitions and shows, including a travelling Basquiat exhibit that originated at the Brooklyn Museum in 2005. The painting was sold to Garavani that same year at a Sotheby’s auction for $5.2 million, and it is now being sold from a distinguished collection. The current estimated price is more than eight times the figure it achieved in 2005, backed with a third-party guarantee.
In a statement, Christie’s chairman Alex Rotter said that when Basquiat completed the work at the age of 22, “unpacking historical constructs of race” was at the forefront of his practice. Basquiat’s paintings have become synonymous with luxury, and his works have in recent years commanded some of the largest sums at auction, with his name becoming a brand in the market sphere. The Nile has also made its way into the pop-cultural mainstream consciousness, appearing in the Showtime TV series Billions in 2016.
A portion of the proceeds from the sale in May will go to the Accademia Valentino in Rome, an institution that’s dedicated to art, fashion, and education. The sale is a testament to the fact that the worlds of fine art and luxury have historically been linked, and Basquiat’s references, from art history to street art, have become ingrained in shared cultural consciousness. Basquiat saw the future, and his references have continued to become that much more salient.