Not long after Untitled (Skull), the finest Basquiat painting ever to come to auction, sold for an incredible $110.5 million last year, our art authentication service was hired by an international dealer. He explained that he was in the process of selling a Basquiat painting, and had a buyer lined up who was ready to pay millions for it—assuming it passed muster.
The client was friendly and professional. He furnished us with digital photos of his painting and a detailed history of its ownership, signed our standard legal disclaimer, and dutifully sent payment. As an added inducement, he let it be known that he owned a number of additional Basquiats and was eager to hire us to authenticate them as well.
After receiving images of the work, I conducted my research and concluded that the painting was not, in fact, genuine. After I delivered the disappointing news to the client, his demeanor quickly changed.
Once he realized I would not reconsider my position, there were threats of lawsuits—and worse. It was the “worse” that concerned me. The experience made me wonder to what length a collector would go to have his picture validated. This sort of bad behavior is not unheard of; the world of Modigliani authentication is allegedly filled with similar issues.
In the wake of the $110 million Basquiat sale, we’ve experienced a steady flow of inquiries—and encountered a growing number of questionable works purportedly by the American master. A surprising number of inquiries have come from owners who claim to have multiple Basquiats. (The record is 21.)