Elton John To Auction Off Rare Warhol, Basquiat Collaboration

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Photo via Sotheby’s

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 Paris French 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.

 

Never-Before-Seen Images of the Young Warhol

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At the new gallery Site/109 on Norfolk Street recently, the photographer William John Kennedy and his lovely wife Marie, now advanced in age, walked me through an extraordinary collection of Mr. Kennedy’s prints on view for the exhibit Before They Were Famous: Behind The Lens of William John Kennedy running through May 29. They were telling me the story of how they met and came to photograph Andy Warhol and Robert Indiana as emerging American artists. I started to wish they were my grandparents pretty early on.

“I had an assignment from Pratt Institute, I had an assignment to shoot four famous artists – up and coming American artists – so I’m going, ‘Who the hell am I going to shoot? I don’t know anybody,’” Mr. Kennedy told me as we took in the images around us. “I had just opened my own studio in New York City, and all of the sudden” – SNAP – “I went to a show and Warhol’s work was there.”

“But it was Robert Indiana who introduced Bill to Andy,” Mrs. Kennedy chimed. “Bill was very friendly with Robert and was photographing him for months prior to meeting Andy; and then at an exhibition Robert introduced Bill to Andy, and told him that Bill had been coming to his studio to photograph him and Andy was so impressed with Bill’s work – I mean Andy knew when he was in the presence of somebody who had creativity and he must have felt that way about Bill.”

The fact that these early images of iconic American artists happened isn’t the exciting part, necessarily. It’s that the stars aligned – literally – to create these amazingly early, naïve portraits of the artists with their own work before they were famous. “That would be like us going to the Lower East Side and finding, out of the hundreds of artists, the two rising stars, with their work, choosing it, and then all of the sudden in the future becoming something so,” said Michael Huter, founder of Kiwi Arts Group who produced the show, “allowing them to sit in a box for fifty years, and then showing them to the world. It’s so off the charts crazy!

Indeed these early images sat untouched for over 50 years, until the photographer uncovered them within his archives and decided it was time to finally print this project.

“At the time, [Warhol] was looking for every possible way he could seek fame. Indiana had a show at the MoMA,” Huter continued. “Warhol was invited, he had just had his first one man show at Eleanor Ward’s Stable Gallery. So Bill had photographed Indiana, and of course there was jealousy in getting introduced – he wanted Bill to photograph him so that he could get his face and images out there and Bill is one of the first photographers to capture that and so [Warhol] was the ultimate fame whore.”

Or at least he was one of the first. The negatives were processed at Duggal – a printer in New York City, which is still there – at the time the film was shot. Mr. Huter contacted Duggal upon finding out about the photographs in 2006 and said, “How would you like to print the work that you processed in 1963 and 1964 and Baldev Duggal, still being there, excitedly, said ‘Oh my God this is crazy!’”

This Saturday Site/109 will host Telling Tales: Warhol’s Friends Tell it Like it Was moderated by Eric Shiner, Director of The Andy Warhol Museumand featuring a lively discussion with the photographer, Warhol muse Ultra Violet, and Taylor Mead. On Sunday they’ll host a panel called 99% Art in the Public Realm: A Tool for Social Change. To RSVP and learn more visit Kiwi Arts Group

Here are some of the images Duggal produced from the sets of William John Kennedy. Stay tuned for more Warhol Wednesdays throughout the month of May!

The Sculls’ Warhols, Jasper Johns and Rauschenbergs All Together Again

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In 1973 taxi magnate Robert Scull and his socialite wife, Ethel, auctioned off 50 pieces from what was then considered one of the most enviable modern art collections in the country. The Sculls–aka “Bob and Spike” to anyone who’s read Tom Wolfe’s titular essay from The Pump House Gang–divorced soon thereafter an estimated $2.2 million richer, ultimately selling off the remainder of the Oldenburgs, Rosenquists and Rauschenbergs to private collectors and public institutions in 1986. Starting today, 44 of those works from 23 of the last century’s most prominent artists will be on view at New York’s Acquavella Galleries through May 27.

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The couple’s appetite for art was voracious, and in a relatively short span of time they managed to gobble up a sizable chunk of iconic works, many of which are now considered masterpieces. After sating their craving for Abstract Expressionism (Willem de Kooning, Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko) they moved on to Pop Art, acquiring James Rosenquist’s “F-111,” Jasper Johns’ “Map,” and commissioning Andy Warhol’s first portrait, “Ethel 36 Times.” Another Warhol painting from the collection, “200 One Dollar Bills” sold last November for a record $43.8 million, having initially fetched $385,000 at auction in 1986.

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The Scull collection indeed appreciated exponentially over time, a testament to both its owners’ taste and prescience. In fact, the early ’70s sale may have kickstarted the art market as we know it today, catalyzing the occasionally peculiar, often persistent desire for trendy works potential collectors neither know they want or need. According to Scull’s son, James, however, his father’s motivations were not simply those of a savvy, greed-driven businessman, but of a frustrated onetime painter himself, happy (and able) to help out then-struggling artists like John Chamberlain and James Rosenquist. Regardless of Scull’s original intent, perceived or otherwise, the collection at Acquavella Galleries is irrefutably a formidable one whose cultural value is, in a word, priceless.

image Robert & Ethel Scull: Portrait of a Collection, April 13 – May 27, 2010, Acquavella Galleries, 18 E. 79th St., NY, NY. www.acquavellagalleries.com.