Collector Francesco Pellizzi’s Rare Basquiats Head to Auction for the First Time

The trio of paintings will be sold by Phillips in New York and Hong Kong next month.

Black and white photo of three people sat at outdoor table
Francesco Clemente, Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat at the Pellizzi residence in 1984. © Francesco Pellizzi

A group of rare early paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat will make their auction debut this spring with Phillips, potentially bringing in more than $86.5 million total. All three come from the art collection of the late anthropologist Francesco Pellizzi, who purchased the paintings from Basquiat’s first dealer, Annina Nosei.

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“An inspired collector, Francesco Pellizzi acquired timeless works that underscore Basquiat’s enduring significance and artistic vision, as they continue to inspire and provoke thought forty years later,” said Robert Manley, deputy chairman at Phillips, in a statement.

Blue and yellow abstract painting
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (ELMAR), (1982). Courtesy Phillips

Phillips has been ramping up its Basquiat offerings in recent years. In addition to sponsoring the 2022 King Pleasure exhibition in New York, organized by Basquiat’s family, the auction house in 2018 sold his work Flexible for $45 million. And in 2022, it realized $85 million for Basquiat’s Untitled, sold by Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa.

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The most valuable of the three paintings to be offered by Phillips in the coming months is Basquiat’s 1982 Untitled (ELMAR), which has an estimate of between $40 million and $60 million and will be sold on May 14 in New York. The painting, which measures nearly 8 feet wide, includes signature Basquiat motifs like scribbled text and a fallen angel. It was included in an exhibition of Pellizzi’s art collection at the Hofstra Museum in New York in 1989 and more recently in a 2018 retrospective at Fondation Louis Vuitton.

Abstract blue painting with various figures adorned with crowns
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled (Portrait of a Famous Ballplayer), (1981). Courtesy Phillips

Phillips Basquiat auctions in New York and Hong Kong

Also included in the May 14 sale will be Basquiat’s Untitled (Portrait of a Famous Ballplayer), a 1981 painting expected to fetch between $6.5 million and $8.5 million. Notably exhibited at a memorial show in 1988 shortly after the artist’s untimely death in August of that year, the work explores race and culture in the U.S. through the “all-American” sport of baseball, according to Phillips.

The auction house’s third offering, Native Carrying Some Guns, Bibles, Amorites on Safari, features a Black figure confronting a colonial poacher. The painting has an estimate of between $12 million and $18 million and will be included in a May 31 auction in Hong Kong. Phillips, which opened a Hong Kong headquarters last spring, noted that Asian collectors have shown a notable interest in Basquiat’s work.

Orange colored painting showing black and white fitures
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Native Carrying Some Guns, Bibles, Amorites on Safari, (1982). Courtesy Phillips

Pellizzi, who died last year, was the co-founder and editor of Res, Anthropology and Aesthetics, a journal published by the Peabody at Harvard and Chicago University Press. The Italian academic studied under Claude Lévi-Strauss and authored numerous texts on Basquiat’s work. “Just when we think we have seized something essential about them, the essence evaporates,” wrote Pellizzi of Basquiat’s paintings in the essay Black and White All Over, which was included in a catalog for a 1989 retrospective of the artist at New York’s Vrej Baghoomian Gallery. “The paintings seem to slip away right and left, despite their remarkable compositional strength—a centripetal tension between all the elements.”

The anthropologist began collecting in the 1960s with pieces by artists like Donald Judd, Don Flavin and Carl Andre. But his tastes turned toward the contemporary in the 1980s and onwards. In addition to works by Basquiat, Pellizzi collected art from George Condo, Francesco Clemente, Vija Celmins and Daniel Lezama.

Collector Francesco Pellizzi’s Rare Basquiats Head to Auction for the First Time