Sotheby’s to Offer Untitled (Pecho/Oreja) by Jean-Michel Basquiat on Behalf of the Members of U2

LONDON – Sotheby’s forthcoming Contemporary Art Evening Sale will be highlighted by Jean-Michel Basquiat’s early masterpiece, Untitled (Pecho/Oreja), 1982-83. The work will be offered on Tuesday, July 1st, 2008 and comes from the joint collection of Irish rock band U2. It is estimated at £4-6 million.

The painting was first spotted by U2’s bassist Adam Clayton at the Robert Miller Gallery in New York. The band acquired Untitled in 1989, and it has since resided in their Dublin studio.

Oliver Barker, Senior Specialist, Sotheby’s Contemporary Art department, said: “It seems especially appropriate that a work by Basquiat should end up at a music studio, since so much has been said about the relationship between his art and music.”

Painted when the artist was just 22 years old, Untitled (Pecho/Oreja) exhibits a sublime combination of imagistic cacophony and compositional economy. The brilliantly delineated head, a motif that continued to underpin Basquiat’s work for the rest of his brief career, stands as both idiosyncratic self-portrait and skull-like talismanic call-sign. This painting was executed during 1982, a year of unprecedented success for the fledgling artist, having held his first solo exhibitions at major galleries including Gagosian in Los Angeles and Bruno Bischofberger in Zurich. Towards the end of that year, Manhattan dealer Annina Nosei became Basquiat’s primary dealer, and the artist moved into a studio in the basement of his new gallery. Here, he was at last able to paint freely and early on, he produced a prodigious group of masterworks.

Untitled (Pecho/Oreja) is scattered with the iconic marks and signs of Basquiat’s incomparable aesthetic vocabulary, characteristic of his best work from this early period. The highly stylized face evokes both the primitive scribbles of a child and the elaborate iconography of ancient African reliquary masks, both important influences on the young Basquiat who, like his hero Picasso, interrogated long-forgotten artistic traditions in his interpretations of contemporary visual culture.

In May 2007, Sotheby’s established a world record at auction for Jean-Michel Basquiat when it sold Untitled, a masterpiece dating from 1981, for $14.6 million in New York. Since then, the company has offered further outstanding works by the artist including Untitled (Electric Chair), 1981-82, which sold for $11.8 million in November 2007, and Untitled (Prophet I) from the same period, which sold for $9.5 million in May 2008.