October 10, 2008 / 6:05 PM / 10 years ago

Metallica drummer to sell $12 million Basquiat painting

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A painting by famed graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat will be auctioned next month as it comes to the market from an unlikely source — Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich.

Lars Ulrich of Metallica shouts during the 13th Annual MTV Europe Music Awards 2006 show in Bella Center in Copenhagen, November 2, 2006. REUTERS/Alex Grimm

Ulrich may be a heavy metal drummer by trade, but he’s also a noted collector of fine art.

He bought the 1982 Basquiat painting “Untitled (Boxer)” in 1999, and is hoping it could generate bids of as much as $12 million when it goes under the hammer.

The painting goes on view at Christie’s in London on Friday for a week, before it is sold at the auction house’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Sale in New York on November 12.

“As a collector I view myself as a caretaker of works of art, rather than simply an owner,” said Ulrich.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to have shared 10 great years with this truly iconic painting by Basquiat and it’s time to put it back into circulation and let someone else enjoy it as much as I have over the last decade.”

Ulrich’s father was Danish tennis champion Torben Ulrich, who was part of Copenhagen’s art and music scene in the 1950s and 1960s and at first the drummer was drawn to works by European avant garde artists such as Asger Jorn and Karen Appel.

Metallica’s founding member, songwriter and drummer then started to collect graffiti artists such as Jean Dubuffet, Sam Francis and Basquiat.

“I have the best collection of Asger Jorn on this planet,” Ulrich told Playboy magazine in 2001. “I have what is universally considered as one of the two greatest Basquiat paintings; I spent a year-and-a-half chasing it down.

“Hanging out backstage with Kid Rock is an amazing turn-on, no less so than sitting and staring at my Dubuffet for an hour with a gin and tonic.”

It is not the first time Ulrich has sold a Basquiat painting — in 2002 he sold the American graffiti artist’s aptly named “Profit I” which sold for more than $5 million.

“Untitled (Boxer)” depicts a boxer with upraised arms and the painting has been described as an icon for black America, both “triumphant warrior and crucified victim.”

“Lars has been an incredible collector, passionate and intelligent in his approach, often pursuing specific works for several years before he made a purchase,” said Brett Gorvy, Christie’s international co-head of Post-War and Contemporary Art.

Basquiat, who like fellow 1980s art star Keith Haring started out as a graffiti artist, saw his fortunes soar virtually overnight during the East Village art boom.

He died of a drug overdose in 1988 at the age of 27 and was the subject of a film biography, “Basquiat,” directed by fellow artist Julian Schnabel.

Metallica’s recent album “Death Magnetic” recently went to No. 1 in the United States and Britain, as well as such countries as Argentina, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, and Ulrich’s native Denmark.

Reporting by John Joseph; Editing by Paul Casciato

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