Everyone knows the name Jean-Michel Basquiat. Throughout the ’70s and ’80s, he became one of the world’s most influential artists, responsible for revolutionizing the New York art scene by popularizing street art and promoting a radical, political message. But before his paintings were selling for $110,000,00 at auction, Basquiat was living as a homeless teen in NYC’s East Village.
A new documentary, Boom For Real, explores this pivotal time in the artist’s life, which undoubtedly impacted his work and career. From the prevalence of drugs, crime and violence that he witnessed (in the documentary, director Sara Driver shows how his famous tag “SAMO” came from Basquiat seeing the “same ‘ol shit”), to his experiences with class struggle, these themes were at the center of the artist’s work until his untimely death in 1988. While most of the other films about the painter, like Tamra Davis’ 2010 Radiant Child documentary, touch on Basquiat’s career and the effect he’s had on contemporary art, Boom For Real sheds light on his life before fame, and how those experiences shaped him as an artist.
After a chance meeting in a New York cafe in 1980, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol went on to conspire on several significant works, until the latter’s untimely death in 1987. One such painting, simply Untitled, will go on the block at the Sotheby’s ParisFrench Evening sale on June 7.
The current owner of the rather poignantly foreboding artwork (Jean-Michel himself died in 1988), a 1984-1985 acrylic, silkscreen and oil on canvas, signed by both artists on the overlap, is Sir Elton John, along with husband David Furnish. Described as a memento mori—meaning, a cultural reminder of mortality and death’s inevitability—it strikingly exhibits the artistic/psychological frisson and tension that existed between Warhol and Basquiat.
It is expected to fetch upwards of $1,000,000, and the proceeds will likely go to one of the singer’s charitable concerns. Indeed, he and Sotheby’s have a collaborative history of selling off pieces to benefit the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
Basquiat’s work was iconic, imbued with a level of unabashed emotion and power that street art hadn’t seen when he first began wreaking havoc on New York in the ’80s. By addressing charged themes like racism, politics and hypocrisy, the young painter gave new depth to graffiti art and infiltrated the world of high-brow aficionados with a personal, outsider approach.
Designer eyewear brand Etnia Barcelona has tapped into this narrative, creating a capsule collection of sunglasses that incorporate Basquiat-inspired motifs through smart, subtle details. An homage to the late visionary, this exclusive release follows the brand’s mission to develop authentic accessories with an eye for key cultural movements in art and photography.
Four different sunglasses will be available worldwide with patterns based on three original works by Basquiat. Though each individual piece is unique, Etnia Barcelona’s designed the eyewear with three vertices to resemble those hand-drawn, three-point crowns that we’ve grown to associate with Basquiat’s legacy.
A true fusion of substance and style, Etnia Barcelona’s forthcoming capsule sees the release of a fashion film, as well, featuring rapper Oddisee and graphic artist Elle—two contemporary figures who’ve both kept Basquiat’s rebellious energy alive today. Watch, below:
There’s nothing like a little continuity with your fall fashion. In celebration of London concept store Joseph’s 25-year anniversary (stateside, we know Joseph for its contemporary line,) the company is releasing a new sweater for fall, different from the rest of the collection in its provenance. Like the current windows at the store, the sweater in question was inspired by photographer/journalist/stylist Michael Roberts’ photographs, which he created for Joseph 25 years ago. The photographs themselves were inspired by the aesthetics of Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. So the sweater is Haring/Basquiat derivative. Got that?
After spending time in New York, immersed in the art scene, Roberts flew the coop for London, bringing his newfound inspirations with him.
Set up for the London Fashion Week crowds to see, the current store windows feature the prints and patterns we associate with those artists of the ‘80s. Joseph’s creative director Louise Trotter created the Haring sweater in commemoration of that original collaboration, and it’s available at the 77 Fulham Road store, as well as online, now.
Keith Haring’s art is like a visual punch in the face. A true trailblazer during New York City’s street culture movement in the 1980s, the inimitable graffiti virtuoso’s playfully subversive imagery slapped society with a unique call-to-action that cleverly commanded open and direct discussions about sex, racism, war, power and violence. Following his untimely death in 1990 at the age of 31, the artist’s signature silhouettes, iconic bold lines, and legendary phrases live on through thoughtful brand collaborations managed by the Keith Haring Foundation, as well as exclusive exhibitions at major museums across the globe.
A social activist at heart, Haring’s powerful political messages are as impactful today as they were at the height of his career. To celebrate his legacy, the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris) and Le CENTQUATRE present one of the artist’s largest retrospectives to date. The Political Line runs from April 19 through August 18and boasts nearly 250 striking images on canvas, subway walls and tarpaulins, including such works as A Pile of Crowns, For Jean-Michel Basquiat (1988), Brazil (1989), and Andy Mouse – New Coke (1985), a tribute to Haring’s close friend and mentor, Andy Warhol. The CENTQUATRE art space will showcase 20 large-format works, most notably The Ten Commandments (1985), which is a mighty set of 25-foot panels that cleverly merge Biblical references with socio-political iconography. In short, it’s bucket list-worthy for Haring diehards.
Dedicated to supporting art initiatives around the world (projects include Miss Van’s exhibition in Los Angeles, Fuzi UV TPK’s tattoo residency at New York’s The Hole Shop, and Barry McGee’s retrospective at the Berkeley Art Museum in California), premium denim and lifestyle brand Citizens of Humanity (COH) is sponsoring the exhibition and will also host a special children’s program to salute the partnership. "I am inspired by people that follow their own ideas and create what no one has before them," explains COH founder, Paris-born Jerome Dahan. "As a child, I didn’t have the opportunity to be exposed to ‘art’ as it was defined inside a museum or gallery. Contemporary art, which feels far more accessible, was one I connected with. When I came to the states, I found the look and voice of artists at the time particularly interesting and inspiring, as they were rewriting the rules and, for the first time, were so much a part of popular culture. Haring defines a true artist to me; he had a strong vision, incredible courage, and spoke from the heart." Dahan has paintings from both Haring and Basquiat in his home collection.
"As a team, we wanted to support an exhibition that showcases the work of a man who truly was a Citizen of Humanity and who helped draw attention to social issues that are important to all of us," explains COH president, Amy Williams. "To do so in Jerome’s birthplace, during the 10-year anniversary of our brand, makes it even more important." In addition to the artist’s undeniable draw, Paris, contemporary art and charity are three elements that attracted COH to sponsoring the exhibition. Over the last year, the brand has been working to develop and share their story while expanding presence in France, a place that is very much a part of their DNA.
Haring’s connection to France includes a 1985 exhibition at the CAPC Musee d’Art Contemporain (Museum of Contemporary Art) in Bordeaux and a vibrant 1987 mural on the exterior of Necker Children’s Hospital in Paris. Although his international presence is certainly revered, the artist was a New Yorker through and through. Born on May 4, 1958 in Reading, Pennsylvania, in 1987 Haring dropped out of the Ivy School of Professional Art in Pittsburgh after two semesters when he realized that he wasn’t interested in becoming a commercial graphic artist. Later that year, he moved to New York City and enrolled in the School of Visual Arts (SVA), where his love affair with street art first sparked. Swiftly making a name for himself through rapid, mind-blowing public paintings in subways (this was around the time his infamous "Radiant Baby" figure was born), by the 1980s he was making waves with fellow 20th century game-changers like the aforementioned Basquiat and Warhol, and collaborating with a host of acclaimed audio angels. Memorable designs include a leather jacket donned by Madonna in 1984 during her performance of "Like a Virgin" for the TV dance show, Solid Gold, and brilliantly eccentric outfits sported by the one and only Grace Jones in her 1986 music video for "I’m Not Perfect (But I’m Perfect for You)." (There’s also body painting involved and cameos by Haring and Warhol. That video will change your life.)
Living friends of the artist continue to sing his praises. Queen of New York’s underground scene in the ’80s and FUN Gallery co-founder (her memoir, FUN Gallery…The True Story, is a must-read) Patti Astor recalls her first encounter with the artist: "I met Keith on Astor Place in 1980. He was wearing his distinctive Day-Glo painted googly eyeglasses and asked to take my picture. What a lucky day for me! We were privileged to show Keith and [famed Lower East Side graffiti artist Angel Ortiz] LA2 at the FUN Gallery in February of 1983. If there is one artist who epitomizes the breakthrough spirit of the early ’80s—a moment when your ‘art’ and your impact on the culture were inseparable—it is Keith. I think of him every day."
Hollywood-born, Brooklyn-based art legend Kenny Scharf was friends and roommates with Haring and appears in the 2008 documentary, The Universe of Keith Haring. He shares Astor’s sentiment: "Although Keith and I were the same age, I always felt that he was my guide and teacher. I learned so much from him and still use his advice today. Thank you, Keith, forever."
The Political Line runs from April 19 through August 18, 2013 at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 11 Avenue du Président Wilson, 75116 Paris, France.
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.
Musicians and visual artists often have a symbiotic relationship, inspiring one another and collaborating on work. Recently, all-grown-up boy genius photographer Ryan McGinley opened a show at New York’s Team Gallery with a party featuring the musical stylings of Atlas Sound, a project from Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox. In addition to having the band play the opening, McGinley filmed the ordeal and today you can watch the video, thanks to Pitchfork.
Despite his inventive nature (and beloved tactic of taking photos of nude young folks cavorting), McGinley wasn’t the first person to marry music and art. Remember The Velvet Underground? Practically Andy Warhol’s house band, the Lou Reed-fronted group, which wrote plenty of songs about Warhol and his posse, let the Pop Art mastermind produce their records and even design the famous banana album cover.
No less than the Radiant Child himself, Jean-Michel Basquiat didn’t just enjoy music—logging countless hours at the famous Mudd Club while bands like DNA and James White and the Blacks provided the soundtrack—he made it as well. Basquiat played in the avant-garde noise group Gray (originally called Test Pattern), that might not be as recognizable as his visual work but is worth soaking up nonetheless.
California-based artist Raymond Pettibon shot to collectible fame as the guy who helped define the look of SoCal punk, most notably designing the logo, album covers and flyers for Black Flag, the band his own brother, Greg Ginn, played guitar for.
Multimedia artist Wynne Greenwood might be known for her work in the Whitney Biennial and her general art star persona, but before any of that was going on, Greenwood played in a variety of Pacific Northwest punk bands including Mimi America and Tracy & The Plastics, the electro-video project that eventually catapulted her into the art world.
Jean-Michel Basquiat would have turned 50 this year, had the Brooklyn-born painter not died from a heroin overdose in 1988, at the age of 27. His contemporary and competitor, art provocateur Barbara Kruger, considers his legacy.
Barbara Kruger doubted the very foundation of this article. “You tell me why I find this funny,” was her response to my first question, which wasn’t about her career or her new self-titled monograph (out this month from Rizzoli) or even her new exhibit at New York’s Mary Boone Gallery. It was about Basquiat: “What did he mean to you?”
Though their careers and artistic styles could not have been more different, Jean-Michel Basquiat was an acquaintance of Kruger’s. Like many artists who came to the art world’s attention in the early ’80s, both spent time at the Mudd Club, New York’s fabled nightlife hub. Despite crossing paths at a very exciting time in both of their young careers, Kruger refuses to indulge in starry-eyed hindsight. “All I can say is that I think he was a tremendously gifted artist. It’s amazing that people do not know his work today, especially people involved in so-called street culture.”
Twenty-two years since being laid to rest in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, Basquiat has become the ultimate luxury commodity. His images have been reduced to shorthand for a grittier, more authentic New York. Since the massive paintings he made in his big SoHo loft in the ’80s still look great in big SoHo lofts today, “a Basquiat,” the noun, has become a hugely expensive, hugely sought-after status symbol.
Barbara Kruger’s text-heavy installation art, which has adorned posters, bus stops and billboards across the world, is a direct address to the types of people who might buy “a Basquiat.” Her body of work constantly questions our sense of self—(Untitled) I shop, therefore I am and Untitled (You Are Not Yourself) are examples—our icons (Marilyn Monroe appears alongside the phrase “Not Stupid Enough”) and our worship of fine art (“Why Are You Here?” asks one of her pieces, hung inside an art gallery. “To Kill Time? To Get ‘Cultured?’ To Widen Your World? To Think Good Thoughts? To Improve Your Social Life?”). Her work visually and linguistically upends expectations, inducting viewers into the 65-year-old artist and UCLA professor’s chronic sense of doubt.
So it’s no surprise that Kruger took care not to perpetuate Basquiat’s deification. “One of the things that creeps me out,” she says, “is the crazy nostalgia that paints those times as so much different and rosier and utopian than they actually were. It was just everyday life, the way we have everyday life now.” She is more interested in the radical nature of Basquiat’s success and its influence on the history of art. “There was a time when the art world in New York consisted of 12 white guys,” she says. “It’s better now. The art world is more globalized. There are different people of different colors, genders, persuasions and classes who are able to call themselves artists, and that makes for a richer cultural life. I don’t think about the good old days. To me, these are the good old days.”
Of those earlier times, Kruger does recall Andy Warhol’s strange adoption of the much younger artist in 1982, which coincided with Basquiat’s meteoric rise to fame. “I thought Warhol’s appropriation of him was sort of weird. It was based on power and libido, and it was about two very gifted male artists.” Though Warhol aided in the creation of Basquiat’s myth, Basquiat was quite aware of the benefits of a well-branded persona. A painting of his, also from 1982, is nothing but two shades of brown acrylic. In the top half of the canvas, scrawled in white oil-stick, is the intended sale price. He titled the piece Five Thousand Dollars.
“To me,” Kruger says, “the ‘art world’ is anthropology. It all comes down to the construction of power through a proper name. These people are no longer bodies to tell us that we’re right or wrong, so rather than talk about a particular artist, it’s all about the construction of fame or prominence, and in truth it’s about how proper names are created through a subculture. You can call it Basquiat or Warhol or even Eva Hesse, if I dare mention a woman. This article, these questions you’re asking, is a furtherance of this very thing.”
Who ever said death metal and fine art were mutually exclusive? Moreover, who also ever said you even needed to be relevant to the pop culture zeitgeist in order to sell records these days? Looking to compound his band’s recent good fortune, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich is taking time between tour stops to cash in on the buoyant art market (still an anomaly in an otherwise bleak economy).
Ulrich is looking to unload his Jean-Michel Basquiat original, with a little help from Christie’s. It’s not that he has anything against “Untitled (Boxer),” but Ulrich is looking to invest in emergent artists these days. The 1982 piece hits the auction block November 12. Bidding is expected to top $12 million.