In late May, Capsule Auctions, a small house established three years ago out of a storefront in New York’s Alphabet City, announced that it would be auctioning off an oil-on-tarp work by Jean-Michel Basquiat that had never been sold by its original owner. When bidding on the work, which depicts Basquiat’s SAMO tag, opened on May 28, several collectors pushed the price well past the high estimate of $25,000, and it finally hammered, with fees, for $71,875.

“It’s exactly what we want to be selling,” said Simon Baranoff, the cofounder of Capsule. “It’s the kind of unique New York work that we want to bring to market. We’ve sold things for more, but it’s really the direction that we’re excited about – to bring a fresh discovery to market.”

Just under $72,000 for a modestly sized work by Basquiat is a once-in-a-lifetime steal. Drawings at its scale (it’s five feet by two-and-a-half feet) often sell into the millions, and in 2017, the Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa bought a gigantic Basquiat skull painting for $110.5 million.

What’s more, the Capsule lot is a special rarity in the artist’s oeuvre: a work with his SAMO tag had never before gone to auction, according to the Artnet Price Database. It stands for “same old shit,” but that shrugged-off energy was typical Basquiat-ish misdirection. Basquiat cared deeply about the tag, which he used to plant around Manhattan with artist Al Diaz. Before Basquiat took it over on his own (and killed it off with great fanfare at the end of 1979, writing SAMO IS DEAD all over the city), the tag appeared throughout the East Village, Lower East Side, SoHo, and very prominently around the urban campus of the School of the Visual Arts.
Courtesy of Artnet News
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