Basquiat's 'Red Skull,' sold at Christie's in London for $21.5M, will fund new charter schools in New Jersey and Miami

ByNate Freeman
The painting

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There was one bit of good news to come out of the last week’s auctions in London: the anonymous consignor of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Red Skull (1982), which sold for $21.5 million at Christie’s contemporary evening sale Friday night, announced that he or she would donate all the proceeds after taxes to the the New Jersey chapter of the Knowledge Is Power Program, a nonprofit that helps open new public charter schools.

Today, KIPP New Jersey announced how it was planning to spend the funds, which after seller’s fees and taxes amount to somewhere between $7 million and $9 million. The haul will expand schools in the New Jersey cities of Newark and Camden, as well as Miami, Florida, through an expansion program. Four to ten new KIPP schools will open across the three areas.

“We are overwhelmed by the generosity of this family, driven by their deep belief in our communities and the potential of the children we serve,” KIPP New Jersey’s founder, Ryan Hill, said in a statement. “This gift will directly support KIPP’s ability to serve more students in Newark and Camden, New Jersey, and Miami, Florida, offering thousands more students an education that prepares them for college and the world beyond.”

The work came to Christie’s just a few months after an untitled work by Basquiat sold for $110 million at Sotheby’s, indicating that excitement surrounding the artist’s work could lead to a higher price than in the past—and, ultimately, more resources for KIPP. Christie’s was, understandably, happy to facilitate the fund-raising.

“More than 88 percent of KIPP New Jersey students are from low-income households and this act of philanthropy will have a significant impact on their education,” Christie’s specialist Katharine Arnold said in the statement.

The auction house and the nonprofit both decided not to identify the consignor. Following the sale ARTnews reported on the long history of the work. After its initial offering at the gallery of Annina Nosei, it bounced around private collections in Europe and ended up in the inventory of the gallery Haunch of Venison. In 2008, that gallery—which, at the time, was owned by Christie’s—took the work to TEFAF, where some fairgoers reported that the work fell to the floor, causing minor damage. (Christie’s shared recent condition reports that concluded the work was in excellent shape.) It was later sold privately by Christie’s in 2009 before ending up back at the house years later.