One-time Indie band drummer, internet retail entrepreneur, space explorer and art impresario – Yusaku Maesawa is certainly a collector like no other. Making his money when his mail order CD business morphed into an online shopping empire, he’s been collecting things ever since – from super cars to serious contemporary art, via antique tea cups.
Famously buying nine artworks totalling more than $98 million on a two-day shopping spree back in 2016, the Japanese tycoon is about to hit the news again – when one of his Basquiat paintings goes on sale at Phillips New York on May 18 (it’s no surprise that this tech-obsessed billionaire will accept payment in crypto).
Maezawa Hearts Basquiat
The painting due for auction, Untitled (Devil) 1982, was bought as part of Maezawa’s famed spree and set him back $57.3 million. The collector should raise $70 million plus when he sells it again with a third-party guarantee: He plans to use the proceeds to set up a museum to showcase his collection in his home city of Chiba, Japan – an area thus far best known for being home to a Disneyland and its nautically-themed offshoot, DisneySea.
If the museum goes ahead, visitors may catch a glimpse of another of Maezawa’s Basquiats (confusingly named Untitled 1982). Bought by the collector from Sotheby’s in 2017, it’s the most expensive piece ever sold by the artist and set its owner back $110.5 million. At the time, pundits were astonished by the price tag. “I decided to go for it,” Maezawa explained to the New York Times shortly after his purchase. There was an altruistic purpose to his acquisition, which he divulged via his Instagram account: “I will loan my Basquiat to many museums across the world. It’s like when you open a bottle of wine to share with friends, you can all have a great time. I want to see everyone smile.”
There’s no denying, however, that Maezawa’s purchases have also served another purpose: by paying so much for his pieces, the collector has helped make Basquiat one of the most expensive and sought after artists of the last century.
Big Names, Big Gain
Who were the other artists in Maezawa’s supermarket sweep-style auction bonanza back in 2016? Christopher Wool, Richard Prince and Jeff Koons amongst others (he passed on works by Cy Twombly and Francis Bacon). His purchases illustrate a penchant for big name contemporary art which plays out across his entire collection. The first artist Maezawa purchased back in the 2000s was Roy Lichtenstein, and he has a couple of Calder mobiles in his living room that have made regular appearances on Instagram (at one point, his pricey Basquiat was pictured hanging casually in the room as well). Maezawa’s also fond of Robert Indiana’s iconic love sculptures.
The collector is keen to support Japanese artists too, as evidenced by his Contemporary Art Foundation which has been supporting local emerging talent since 2012 through grants and residencies. He’s also a fan of better known Japanese artists: his collection includes work by Yoshitomo Nara and Yayoi Kusama too, including one of her famous Infinity Nets.
As well as art, Maezawa famously has another expensive hobby – space travel. Back in 2018, he chartered SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket with the aim of taking eight or nine artists with him to the moon (he later changed his mind and, after an abortive attempt to find a soul mate to go with him, launched a worldwide, talent show-esque hunt for people to accompany him). He takes off next year after a much-publicised practice flight with his assistant last December. Whether he’ll leave any art on the moon remains to be seen – but we think it’s a fairly safe bet.
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