1980s New York Graffiti Art Has Never Been Less Cool

Two painters who have emerged as touchstones for their artistic moment after conveniently dying young—Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat—have now settled comfortably into stultifying legacies that will keep them on the wrong side of “fashionable” for decades to come.

Haring, on the one hand, had to defend his work from charges of commercialism while he was still alive; such is the price of accessible pop. Yet what we’re seeing today (I point you to the Duane Reade installation pictured, a spectacularly thoughtless appropriation of Haring’s Radiant Baby for a set of designer baby bibs) is so utterly divorced from the original commentaries about crises like AIDS and Apartheid and crack-cocaine as to seem a hollow plagiarism. When you see a wall in Brooklyn tagged with one of his trademark figures, it’s difficult not to scoff at the homage, earnest or not.

Meanwhile, the art world’s Basquiat bubble is inflating like Rush Limbaugh at a Vegas buffet. Christie’s will in November auction an untitled piece that should fetch $20 million:

"Great works by Basquiat have become close to impossible to find in recent years," said Loic Gouzer, international specialist of post-war and contemporary art at Christie’s, said in a statement. "The market has been waiting a long time for a work of this caliber and freshness.

"Basquiat is increasingly being recognized as a grand master of post-war art alongside de Kooning, Warhol and Pollock," Gouzer said.

"We expect it to set a new record."

Truly, street art has no cachet until it hangs in the triplex penthouse of a person who vastly overpaid for it, don’t you think? I mean, either there or around a baby’s neck. You might even split the difference: put it in a museum, where no one will see it. Now that’s cool.

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