Japanese art enthusiast Yusaku Maezawa in $98m art spree

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Instagram post from Yusaku Maezawa: "Jean-Michel Basquiat is coming to Japan"Image source, yusaku2020
Image caption,
Yusaku Maezawa posted an image of the artwork on his Instagram account

A Japanese billionaire and art collector has spent $98m (£68m) in a shopping spree at two auctions of contemporary art in New York.

Yusaku Maezawa, who made his money in online retailing, bought seven artworks in total at Christies and Sothebys.

His most expensive purchase was for a large piece by Jean-Michel Basquiat for $57.3m, a record for the US artist.

Sales to other buyers included a 1968 work by Cy Twombly, which sold at Sotheby's for $36.6m.

Mr Maezawa plans to put the art on display in Tokyo, where he lives.

Who is Yusaku Maezawa and how is he so rich?

Image source, Yusaku Maezawa

Yusaku Maezawa made his money setting up the Start Today company in 1998 and online fashion retailer Zozotown in 2004.

The companies made him a billionaire by his mid-30s, and at the age of 40, Forbes magazine listed him as the 17th richest man in Japan with a personal wealth of $2.7bn.

What did he buy?

His biggest purchase was a large work by Jean-Michel Basquiat entitled Devil's Head, of a devil's head on a red background with bold dark slashes. He said in a statement he "felt shivers" when he first saw it.

"Regardless of its condition or sales value, I was driven by the responsibility to acknowledge great art and the need to pass on not only the artwork itself, but also the knowledge of the artist's culture and his way of life to future generations."

He put a picture on Instagram with caption: "Jean-Michel Basquiat is coming to Japan."

His other purchases over the two auctions were:

  • $13.9m on an untitled Christopher Wool painting of the word "Chameleon"
  • $9.7m on a painting called Runaway Nurse by Richard Prince, a record for the artist
  • $6.9m on a sculpture called Lobster by Jeff Koons
  • $2.6m on Self-Portrait as Vincent van Gogh by US artist Adrian Ghenie
  • $5.8m Sumac 17, a mobile by sculptor Alexander Calder
  • $1.69m on a light sculpture spelling out "Eat War" by Bruce Nauman

What will he do with the art?

Mr Maezawa is also the founder of the Contemporary Art Foundation in Tokyo, which he says puts on public shows twice a year.

He said in a statement he also plans to open a private gallery in his hometown of Chiba.

What else was sold?

The Sotheby's auction on Wednesday night took a total of $242.2m in sales. Sotheby's said the sale saw the largest ever number of Asian bidders.

One of the biggest stars was Twombly's 1968 work Untitled (New York City), which sold for just under $36.7m.

Image source, Sotheby's
Image caption,
The Francis Bacon piece fetched 35m

Two Studies for a Self-Portrait by figurative painter Francis Bacon was sold for $35m

As well as the Basquiat, Christie's on Tuesday night saw Mark Rothko's No 17 sell for $32.6m along with several Calder sculptures.

Brett Gorvy, Christie's head of post-war and contemporary art said the house was "particularly happy" the Basquiat went to an Asian collection, "demonstrating the global scope of the masterpiece market".