A Buyer’s Guide to Jean-Michel Basquiat

When Jean-Michel Basquiat was born in 1960, the Pop decade was just unfolding. For the art world, the sixties in America meant a period of transformation. In 1960, Claes Oldenburg’s household objects made their debut at “The Store” on East Second Street. Within a year, the display of Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans appeared in the window of Bonwit Teller and in the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles. Positioning himself against these era-defining moments, by the age of 27, Basquiat had transformed the art world, creating a perspective and style that resonated alongside, and yet distinctly diverged from, the voices that preceded him.

If you seek to purchase Jean-Michel Basquiat’s artwork, navigating the art market can be both exciting and nuanced. If you’re new to Basquiat, this guide aims to equip you with insights to make your acquisition a well-informed endeavour.

Understanding Basquiat’s Legacy

Basquiat’s standing as a groundbreaking artist is firmly rooted in his profound contributions to contemporary art and ability to transcend artistic boundaries. His fusion of street art, graffiti, and neo-expressionism not only reflects the cultural milieu of the 1980s but also addresses critical social and political themes. Basquiat's art captures the essence of urban life and African-American identity, providing a profound reflection of the cultural zeitgeist. Basquiat collectors have the opportunity to own pieces that not only embody the artistic brilliance of a cultural icon but also hold a pivotal place in the narrative of art history and beyond.

New York and the Fabric of Everyday Life

Basquiat’s creative practice began beyond the canvas. His early work reveals a profound engagement with the fabric of city spaces: discarded windows, doors, refrigerators, chairs and pieces of wood and metal found on the streets, all of which offered an alternative surface for painting. Basquiat’s very first painting was made on a window glass and used the window shape as a substitute for frame. 

Another example is “Dead Bird” (1985), a tribute to the iconic jazz musician Charlie Parker, which saw the artist’s rebellious iconography featured on a wooden door painted in acrylic and oil. The unconventional approach to materials and surfaces reflects the artist’s desire to transgress limits of the canvas and traditional gallery spaces1, all in order to bring painting closer to the dynamics of everyday life. A constellation of urban artefacts, Basquiat’s early work embraces the New York landscape to establish an alternative canvas on its own terms.


The Year of Transition

Throughout 1981, Basquiat evolved from a talented and promising street artist to a world-class painter, positioning himself to be one of the most influential artists of his time. By the end of 1981, he joined a studio in the basement of Annina Nosei’s gallery, which marked his transition from street art towards painting as a main medium. Rooted in the 1981 transition, Basquiat’s paintings represent a complex fusion of spray paint, hand-painted oil, chalked-out aesthetics of children street games and references to black culture.

‘Words Are All We Have’2

Basquiat’s body of work reveals a pioneering incorporation of literary and musical elements into his practice. One characteristic feature of his paintings is the deliberate use of crossed-out, obscured, or intentionally misspelt words. The artist once said: ‘I cross out words, so you can see them more: the fact they are obscured makes you want to read them’3. Such visual choice opens perspectives on the interpretative process itself: looking at Basquiat’s words, we are reminded that interpretation is bound to misreading, and meanings are never fixed. The words are also another way of mimicking the language of graffiti, one in which words are scrawled over signs of the graffiti itself.

Music, Chaos and Revolution

Immersed in the blossoming no wave scene as a founder of the industrial band Gray, Basquiat fused areas of art and music, expanding the industrial bands’ notion of creative destruction on canvas. Featuring spliced words and juxtapositions of unrelated phrases, Basquiat’s paintings can be seen to parallel the abstract lyrics of no wave songs. His innovative approach to language also evokes the writing of experimental novelists William Burroughs and Kathy Acker.

Basquiat’s artistic expression mediates a sense of enduring revolution. Continuing a radical tradition of Cubism and Dada collage, the artist possessed an instinctive grasp of avant-garde frameworks, assimilating breakthroughs such as Andy Warhol's repetitive use of iconic imagery and Cy Twombly’s integration of drawing within the realm of painting.

Is Basquiat a Good Investment?4

With their cultural resonance and historical significance, Basquiat's artworks remain a robust and potentially lucrative investment for those seeking to engage with the legacy of one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. Basquiat is currently ranked 2nd in the Artprice global ranking of artists by auction turnover, all periods of creation combined. While his paintings command impressive eight-digit figures at auctions, the print market provides a relatively more accessible entry point for investments.

Basquiat's Editioned Prints

Did Basquiat produce editioned prints during his lifetime? The answer is a resounding yes. Works like 'Back of the Neck' (1983) set an auction record of $1.1 million in 2021, demonstrating the enduring allure of his prints. The prints released by Basquiat during his lifetime, typically smaller in size and numbering between 18 to 45 in a set, fetch higher prices as their scarcity enhances demand. Posthumously released prints from Basquiat’s estate typically come in larger editions, providing an alternative investment option within a more accessible price range.

Estate Releases 

Since his untimely death in 1988, Basquiat’s estate, initially overseen by his father Gerard Basquiat and now by his sisters Lisane Basquiat and Jeanine Heriveaux, has taken charge of producing prints. Since 2001, the estate has commissioned nine authorised print sets, usually in editions of 60 or 85, each accompanied by artist and hors commerce proofs. Notable releases from Basquiat’s estate include 'Hollywood Africans In Front Of The Chinese Theater' and the recent 'Superhero Portfolio’.

In 2015, Pace Prints organised an unexpected sale of a limited edition print ‘Hollywood Africans In Front Of The Chinese Theatre’ in collaboration with the estate. Priced at $50,000 each, the run of 60 prints was based on the imagery from Basquiat’s famous 1983 painting, which belongs to the Whitney Museum of American Art’s collection. The release of the ‘Superhero Portfolio’ on Rally in 2022 marks the estate’s latest venture into the print market. 

Pricing Dynamics

Basquiat’s estate prints, sold in collaboration with galleries such as Pace Prints, range in price from $35,000 to $50,000. Noteworthy auction records include 'Flexible,' achieving a remarkable annual rate of return of 26.27%, and a portfolio featuring 'Wolf Sausage,' 'King Brand,' 'Dog Leg Study,' and 'Undiscovered Genius,' exhibiting a yearly appreciation of +27.23%. 

What Editions Are Available?

When it comes to Basquiat’s prints, the market’s spotlight remains on pieces created between 1981 and 1984. These include artworks released during that period or posthumous releases of paintings from those years. Theme-wise, they can be grouped into following categories: early street art, anatomy, heads and heroes, as well as collaborations with Andy Warhol. The availability of prints from the estate depends on their release schedule, in the past occurring approximately once every 18 months.

Currently available Basquiat’s editions, released by his estate, include (price range at the time of the publishing of this article)

  • Flexible, released in 2016, is taken from a painting made on a wooden panel in 1984. £80,000-£110,000.

  • Untitled (Head), 1983/2001. Edition of 85. Screenprint on Lenox Museum Board. £80,000-£110,000.

  • Hollywood Africans In Front Of The Chinese Theatre With Footprints Of Movie Stars, 1983/2015. Edition of 60. Screenprint. £60,000-£100,000.

  • Phooey, 1982/2021. Edition of 60. 61 Color Screenprint on Saunders Waterford 425 gsm. £100,000 -£110,000.

  • Rome Pays Off, 1984/2004. Edition of 85. Screenprint on Saunders Hot Press watercolour paper. £35,000-£60,000.

  • Leeches, 2017. Edition of 50. Screenprint on Lenox Museum Board. £18,000-£27,000.

  • Ascent, 2017. Edition of 50. Screenprint on 300gm Somerset Satin paper.  £21,000-£30,000.

  • Olympic, 2017. Edition of 50. Screenprint on 300gm Somerset Satin paper. £21,000-£30,000.

  • 50 Cent Piece, 1983/2019. Screenprint on wove paper. £18,000-£27,000.


Released by the artist in his lifetime(price range at the time of the publishing of this article)

  • Back Of The Neck, 1983. Edition of 24. Screenprint with hand-coloring on Stonehenge heavyweight paper. £720,000-£1,080,000.

  • Rinso, 1982. Edition of 85. Screenprint on Lenox Museum Board. £100,000-£140,000.

  • Ernok, 1982. Edition of 85. Screen Print on Lenox Museum Board. £90,000-£140,000.

  • Right Clavicle, from Anatomy Series, 1982. Edition of 18. Screenprint on 88 Arches Paper. £12,000-£18,000.

  • Leg of the Dog, 1983. Edition of 20. Screenprint on Oklwara Rice Paper.

How to Acquire Basquiat Prints?

Selecting the right platform for acquiring your print is pivotal for ensuring both authenticity and quality. You can acquire Basquiat prints through brokerages, online marketplaces or auction houses with prices starting at $30,000. 

Although the allure of affordable prices and low commission fees when purchasing directly from private sellers may be enticing, there is a higher likelihood of encountering counterfeit or severely damaged prints. Auction houses offer more security in terms of verifying authenticity and condition but will drive up the price to cover their fee and appraisal costs.

At Artscapy, one of the major issues we aim to address is the opaqueness of the art market: hidden fees, undisclosed costs, and additional charges often inflate the price you think you're paying, with as much as 50% added on top. We have developed a fully transparent platform with no hidden costs: all-inclusive price including insurance on all artworks purchased, buyer protection, multiple secure payment options, 14-day money back guarantee and a 24hr cancellation policy. 

 If you're interested in exploring Basquiat prints, contact our advisory team at advisory@artscapy.com.


1) Dieter Buchhart, Keith Haring | Jean-Michel Basquiat Crossing Lines (2022), p. 220.

2) 'Words Are All We Have' was the title of an exhibition dedicated to Jean-Michel Basquiat, organized by curator Dr. Dieter Buchhart at Nahmad Contemporary, New York.

3) Jordana Moore Saggese, Reading Basquiat: Exploring Ambivalence in American Art (2021), p. 136.

4) All data sourced from Artprice.

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