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Trading  | May 19, 2017

It could be the single best unlevered investment in recent history.

A portrait by New York artist Jean-Michel Basquiat sold for a remarkable $110.5 million – nearly double the $60 million expected take – during a Sotheby’s auction Thursday night in New York, according to Bloomberg. The sale set a new record for an American artist, and has become one of now 10 paintings in the “$100 Million Club,” according to the New York Times.

The sale of the painting, “Untitled,” made for a thrilling moment at Sotheby’s postwar and contemporary auction as at least four bidders on the phones and in the room sailed past the $60 million level at which the work — forged from oil stick and spray paint — had been guaranteed to sell by a third party.

The Basquat is now among the most-expensive pieces of contemporary art ever auctioned. It set a new record for any U.S. artist at auction, besting the $105.4 million paid four years ago for Andy Warhol’s “Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster).”

“It’s a really historical moment,” said Larry Warsh, a longtime Basquiat collector. “It does cement this artist once again.”  Warsh also said that the sale was “mind-blowing” and added that “I’m not usually impressed by numbers, but this is really out of the boundaries.”

But what’s even more striking is that the painting, created in 1982, was first bought at auction in 1984 for $19,000 by the late collectors Jerry and Emily Spiegel. It’s sale 33 year later for over $110 million is equivalent to a total return of over 5,815x, or a compounded annualized return of some 30%, perhaps the single best unlevered investment of the past 3+ decades, and outperforming the return of even the most legendary hedge funds over the same period.

The buyer was Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, who posted a shot of him posing with his newfound purchase on his Twitter account.

As the auction was still going on, Mr. Maezawa announced that he was the buyer, posting a photo of himself with the work on Instagram. “When I first encountered this painting, I was struck with so much excitement and gratitude for my love of art,” he said in the post. “I want to share that experience with as many people as possible.”

Last May, Mr. Maezawa snapped up $98 million worth of contemporary art at auctions

As for Basquiat, the sale shows “He’s now in the same league as Francis Bacon and Pablo Picasso,” art dealer Jeffrey Deitch told the New York Times.

“I remember astounding the art world back in 1980s when I set an auction record for Basquiat at $99,000,” said Jeffrey Deitch, an art dealer who was the artist’s friend and champion. “All of us, Jean-Michel’s friends, we totally believed in his genius. I always thought he would be one day in the legion of Picasso, Bacon and Van Gogh. The work has that iconic quality. His appeal is real.”

Last year, Basquiat became the highest-grossing American artist at auction, generating $171.5 million from 80 works, according to Artprice. The former grafitti artist, known for his gritty, surreal portraits, was one of the most lauded American artists of the 1980s up until his death in 1988 of a drug overdose at the age of 27. 

A revolutionary initiative is helping average Americans find quick and lasting stock market success.

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